When Aaron Judge went to the injured list for the second time this season after injuring his toe running down a fly ball at Dodger Stadium and crashing through the right field wall, the New York Yankees lost a key piece to returning to the top of their division.
The Yankees are currently in third place in the highly competitive AL East. Of course, the division is also one that has been completely flipped upside down. While the historical favorites in the Yankees and Boston Red Sox have long been the favorites to win most years, mainly due to their payrolls, it's now the young and cheaper analytical-driven teams that are taking a foothold on the division this year with the Tampa Bay Rays and the surprising Baltimore Orioles. But if the Yankees are wanting to at least secure one of the three Wild Card spots in October, they're going to need some of their top players to step up immediately, especially given that Judge has no certain timetable for a return.
The concerning part is which players are capable of accepting that role? The Yankees clearly have some talent, even if some are a little older now. But the Yankees are so clearly reliant on Judge that when he's out, the team tends to regress. In the fifteen games that Judge has missed thus far this season between both IL stints, the Yankees have went 6-9.
The Yankees need to rely on some of their veteran, star players for a boost and quick.
Like Judge and so many others on the Yankees roster this season, Donaldson has been bitten with the injury bug as well. After just coming back from a quite extensive amount of time on the injured list due to a hamstring strain, Donaldson has showed some promising signs since coming back that he can help this Yankees team stay afloat in Judge's unknown length of absence.
Donaldson has shown glimpses of his power since returning from the injured list. His four home runs in six games indicate that he is capable of providing the necessary bump in the middle of the lineup. With other key players struggling on the Yankees roster, Donaldson's hot bat is crucial right now, to where he may become the centerpiece that the rest of the lineup revolves around, similar to what Judge was.
Donaldson has been that before in his other stops around the league, whether that was with the Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves or Minnesota Twins. When his bat is hot and he's seeing the ball well, he can carry a lineup. The Yankees just have to hope that the 37-year-old veteran can stay healthy long enough to keep the line moving for the offense.
It's probably fair to say that the Yankees have never really gotten all they've wanted out of Giancarlo Stanton since he came over from the Miami Marlins. The slugger was supposed to be the face of the franchise but then injuries one after the other keep plaguing him. That left Judge to take over, who even though he's had his own fair share of injuries, has surpassed Stanton in most categorical facets. But now, with Judge going down for a bit, it's time for Stanton to step up and take on the initial role that the Yankees signed him for — the hard-hitting power hitter for the Yankees.
Stanton himself has only been back from injury since June 2, though it looks like he's looking to break out just anytime soon. In his first game back against the Dodgers he hit a home run. However, he's gone 3-18 in his five games back, with six strikeouts. Much like Donaldson, when Stanton does get hot, he's a force in the lineup. The Yankees just need that to be sooner rather than later.
Anthony Rizzo has had a bit of resurgence since joining the team, and a well-expected upgrade from who they had in Luke Voit a couple seasons ago. The first baseman is currently slashing .273/.345/.450 with 11 homers and 32 RBI. The issue is that since coming from a minor neck injury he's struggled at the plate, which has been yet another reason hurdle for the Yankees making headway in their division. In his last five games he's had no hits, two walks and four strikeouts. Not exactly what the Yankees are looking for to make up for Judge's absence.
Can the Yankees survive?
The Yankees have the pieces made to withstand Judge's injury. With the leadership of someone like Donaldson, who has helped his past teams persevere, the Yankees can maintain while awaiting their star player's return. But the Yankees need players like Donaldson, Stanton and Rizzo to overcome their own injuries and inconsistencies this season. They're the pieces of success of the from the one gigantic piece missing for the Yankees to make it to October.