Aaron Judge, the benevolent giant of the Bronx whose tape-measure home runs take the oxygen out of even the biggest rooms, has been the biggest national story during this baseball season. His limitless potential and raw power have understandably overshadowed the exploits of Houston’s Jose Altuve. Poetic symbolism being what it is, many have noticed that the 6-foot-7 Judge towers over the 5-foot-6 second baseman.
Altuve has fully emerged from Judge’s shadow as he continues his torrid hitting streak. By going 4-for-4 in Monday night’s victory, Altuve raised his batting average to .365, 36 percentage points higher than the next highest hitter in the American League (Jean Segura). He’s collected 38 hits in his 75 July at-bats for a .507 average.
Altuve’s greatness is that he is not a one-trick pony. He is second in the AL in on-base percentage and doubles, has hit 15 homers and has an OPS of 1.005. He is both table-setter and run producer, a mix of contact, power and speed — as evidenced by his 21 steals. He’s fanned 51 times and worked 40 walks. Look up the definition of “tough out” and there’s a hedcut image of Altuve’s smiling face.
He’s on pace for a historically great offensive year from the second base position. ESPN notes only two players at the position (Joe Morgan and Jeff Kent) have posted an OPS over 1.000 and both won their league’s MVP award. Altuve also totes a reliable and athletic glove out to the infield every night.
Through 99 games, the Astros carry a 17.5-game lead in the AL West and hold a 12-game advantage over the Boston Red Sox for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They appear destined for a World Series matchup with the equally hot Los Angeles Dodgers and have shown no real signs of slowing down.
Judge, on the other hand, has been showing signs of being human. Since his incredible showing in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby, a swift regression to the mean has been taking place. In 11 games, he’s hit .158 and slugged only .316 with two homers in 38 at-bats. The once-promising dream of a Triple Crown has been extinguished. Nelson Cruz has surpassed him in the RBI race and Mike Moustakas is nipping at his heels in the home run department.
While this is bad news for those who made bold predictions regarding Judge’s MVP futures, it’s not worth freaking out over as some struggles were to be expected and the Yankees continue to play playoff-caliber ball.
But it must be said that the slugger is shrinking, relatively, down the stretch as Altuve builds an ever-expanding mountain of evidence suggesting he deserves the league’s highest honors.