Yankees’ offense slipping back to ugly 2023 ways despite Juan Soto

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It didn’t get better for Yankees Stadium fans than the pregame, in which they got to say goodbye to John Sterling. That is because, during the game, they said hello again to the team’s 2022-23 offense. 

Just now, playing the part of Aaron Judge trying to carry the team by himself is Juan Soto. 

As for Judge, the fans flocked earlier than normal to gain entry to try to land one of his bobblehead dolls. But when Judge struck out in the ninth for the fourth time in four at-bats, he retreated to the dugout to boos, his average down to .179, his whiff percentage over 28 percent. 

The Rays won, 2-0, in 10 innings as the Yankee offense not named Soto continued to be befuddled by opposing starting pitchers while offering a lineup overflowing with empty at-bats by players not just named Judge. 

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees reacts after he strikes out swinging during the nint inning. Robert Sabo for NY Post

The Yankees have won two of their last six games. In the two victories, their offense was timely rather than the anticipated persistent force. They won a finale last Wednesday at Toronto by scoring four of their six runs in the ninth inning. They won the opener at home Friday night against the Rays by scoring all five runs in the seventh inning. 

Runs are runs. But the hope of putting Soto with Judge and adding more lefty heft and Anthonys that were more seasoned (Volpe) and healthier (Rizzo) was to provide a 1-to-9 lineup force for 1-to-9 innings. 

Instead, the overall offense is too in the Venn diagram with last season — a .237/.332/.378 slash line vs. a 2023 of .227/.304/.397. Judge camouflaged many offensive sins in 2022 with his historic 62 homers and the eight weeks he missed in the heart of last season after injuring his right big toe fully exposed a lineup that was overreliant on one star. 

Yet, that often has been the case this season even as the Yankees have surged to a 14-7 start. Volpe started hot, Oswaldo Cabrera surprised and Giancarlo Stanton hit a few timely homers. But the only consistent to date has been Soto, who just does not ever have a bad at-bat

Juan Soto is one of the few Yankees’ bright spots in the lineup. Robert Sabo for NY Post

On Saturday, he had two of the four Yankee hits, plus lined out to the warning track leading off the ninth in a 0-0 game. He had three of the four hardest-hit balls by the Yankees. Soto was expected to a co-star with Judge in a long lineup that grinded opponents. But too often it is has been Juan Soto and The Pips. Soto leads the Yankees in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging by large margins — if you remove Soto’s .354, the rest of the Yankees are hitting .222. 

Aaron Boone decided not to start Gleyber Torres, who was hitting .139 in this last 10 games and had struck out six times in his last two games and was down to .195 for the season. Austin Wells, whose bat was supposed to be his calling card, is down to .091. Trent Grisham, with a rare start, is now 0-for-12 on the season. Rizzo (.232) and Alex Verdugo (.233) have been mostly pop-less. Wells, Grisham, Rizzo and Verdugo were supposed to be key to adding lefty diversity and might beyond Soto. 

But Judge because of the size of his talent, contract, track record and, well, size draws the most attention for the offensive downturn. He has two hits in his last 20 at-bats with 12 strikeouts — though one of those hits was a winning double in Toronto. So when he struck out in the ninth against Jason Adam when one Judge-ian blast could have sent 47,629 home happy, he was booed by a segment of the crowd. 

Oswaldo Cabrera struck out in a big spot in extras. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Nestor Cortes, who delivered seven shutout innings, admitted not liking the reception considering all that Judge has done for the organization. Judge said, “I have heard worse and would probably be doing the same [booing] in that situation.” 

Judge said he feels great and that there are no physical maladies. He said there is not a singular reason for his slow start, noting both mechanical and pitch recognition issues, but mainly saying that he knows he will not be given a lot of pitches to do damage against based on his reputation and he must seize those moments — and so far has failed. He cited the long season and not being worried. About himself or the offense in total. 

On Saturday Cortes pitched so well (now no runs on eight singles in 15 home innings in 2024) that one Judge launch that went high and far would have meant “The Yankeeeees Wiiiiin.” Instead, he and the Soto-less part of the offense had another sustained period of empty at-bats. For a lineup that was supposed to be special, it was again far short of a Sterling effort.

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