If Aaron Judge’s quest for his 61st home run takes much longer, Roger Maris’s offspring, who have been following the Yankee’s pursuit from ballpark to ballpark, might have to admit that Barry Bonds is the real record-holder just so they get to go home.
Judge’s home run “drought,” at least by his extraordinary standards, hit seven games Tuesday. That stretch includes a four-game sweep of the Red Sox in which he didn’t go deep despite seeing some fat pitches from Boston’s staff of meatball craftsmen.
I bring this up not to suggest Judge’s slump is incurable or that he won’t break Maris’s American League record of 61 homers set 61 years ago. Hey, it took Carl Yastrzemski 16 games between his 399th and 400th homers in July 1979. The grip on the bat can get tight when history is at stake.
No, I bring it up because of an offhand comment Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay made during Judge’s final plate appearance Monday night against the Blue Jays. With runners on first and second and two out in a 2-2 game in the 10th inning, Blue Jays manager John Schneider brought in lefthander Tim Mayza. A moment later, Schneider signaled to intentionally walk the righthanded-hitting Judge.
It was a no-brainer tactically, and Mayza retired lefthanded-hitting Anthony Rizzo to escape the inning. Still, viewers who were watching the YES Network simulcast on MLB Network had hoped to see Judge take his swings, and so did the booing, phone-wielding pockets of Yankees fans in attendance at Rogers Centre in Toronto who seemed more intent on recording history than experiencing it.
After Schneider, whose Jays are trying to fend off the Rays and Mariners for the American League’s top wild-card spot, gave the signal for Judge to take his base, Kay said, “Now you can get mad at the manager all you want, but he’s playing for something. Now, if Alex Cora did this, you’d have a real reason to get angry. He’s trying to win this game and get to the playoffs.”
Kay, who gives voice to the Yankees Superiority Complex that’s a remnant of the 20th century, knows his audience. It was an irresistible little dig at the last-place Red Sox, who have spent the last couple of months playing for nothing but their dignity, with mixed results. Kind of snide? Sure. Also: true.
The remark made me think about what the Red Sox need to do this offseason to avoid being a late-season punch line again. Through Tuesday, the Sox were 73-81, 22 games back of the Yankees in the AL East and, more damning, seven behind the Orioles for fourth place.
It’s been an uneven season as a whole, and a dismal couple of months. The Red Sox began the season 10-19, but by June 26 they were 42-31, a season-best 11 games over .500. Since then, they’re 31-50, with each loss seemingly the result of boneheaded errors, flammable relief pitching, and an offense that has largely forgotten how to hit home runs.
Because of the recurring frustrations and assorted injuries to important players, it’s easy to forget that the Red Sox, for all of their flaws, should have plenty of talent returning next season.
There will be many moving parts with the pitching staff, and some of those parts — starting with Ryan Brasier — should move on out of town. But a rotation with Chris Sale, Brayan Bello (if Pedro is sold, I’m sold), Nick Pivetta, and some combination of Michael Wacha, James Paxton, and perhaps Nate Eovaldi is a decent place to start. I’m wary of Carlos Rodón’s long injury history, but he has been exceptional the past two seasons and is a high-end gamble worth taking in free agency.
Garrett Whitlock is a reliever as far as I’m concerned, and the Red Sox need to stop yanking him around. With Tanner Houck, Matt Strahm, John Schreiber, and a rejuvenated Matt Barnes, there are the makings of a competent bullpen with a couple of established additions.
Offensively, a Triston Casas/Trevor Story/Xander Bogaerts/Rafael Devers infield could be the heart of the team. Obviously, there are variables at play.
I’m still skeptical that they intend to give Bogaerts an offer anything close to what he could get on the open market, but it does seem as though Chaim Bloom and the front office are beginning to realize that letting him depart would bring a tsunami of backlash. Story needs to stay at second base. Devers’s struggles in the second half — he has five homers and a .683 OPS in 47 games — are almost certainly injury-related. Perhaps his good-but-not-great season helps close the gap on terms for an extension.
Casas is hitting .179, but he has five homers in 56 at-bats and should make Eric Hosmer expendable. His sense of the strike zone is outstanding, though his chirping about balls and strikes is going to get him the kind of reputation with umpires that Grant Williams has with NBA officials.
You know what the starting outfield needs? Some actual starting outfielders.
Kiké Hernández is signed for next season, so at least they’ll have a center fielder who can go get the ball, even if he hasn’t hit since Game 3 of the 2021 ALCS. Alex Verdugo is a league-average offensive player with a penchant for defensive and base-running blunders, and he might be an interesting piece in a deal for a superior player. The Red Sox need an actual right fielder rather than the assortment of Bloom-approved utility players being asked to exceed their capabilities. A Tommy Pham return would be fine as a fourth outfielder. But they need a big bat befitting the Red Sox outfield tradition.
What’s that you say? Could it be Judge? I could see the Red Sox making an offer but coming nowhere close to what he eventually gets from the Yankees, Mets, or his boyhood favorite team, the Giants.
I suspect, though, that the Red Sox’ offensive remedies will come not so much from free agency but from a trade or two that we don’t see coming.
It’s been a lost and lousy season. Here’s to winning the offseason, restoring hope and interest, and silencing those snickers about their current sad-sack status.
Chad Finn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.