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Which Aaron Judge comes back is likely to make or break the Yankees’ season


The Bill Parcells quote (“You are what your record says you are”) doesn’t apply.

The Yankees (54-48) have had Aaron Judge in the lineup for less than half (49) of their 102 games this season.

They are 30-19 when the reigning American League MVP plays, good for a .612 win percentage, which is higher than any team in the American League currently holds.

When Judge is out, the last-place Yankees are 24-29, which includes a 4-1 mark in their past five games that has kept the Bombers 2.5 games out of the final AL wild card spot.

But with Judge expected to return this weekend — possibly as soon as Friday night — after missing nearly two months because of a torn ligament in his big toe, the Yankees’ record in their next 10 games will say a lot about who this team is and what it can be.

The Orioles' Gunnar Henderson rounds the bases after hitting a home run against Luis Severino.
The sputtering Yankees begin a crucial 10-game stretch with three games against the AL-leading Orioles.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

It begins Friday night with the start of a three-game set against the first-place Orioles in Baltimore with Cy Young contender Gerrit Cole taking the mound.

Then, on the eve of the trade deadline, the Yankees will then return to The Bronx for a seven-game homestand against the team with the second-best record in the league (Rays) and the reigning World Series champs (Astros). The Yankees have split 10 games with the Orioles this season, and gone 3-4 against Tampa Bay. They haven’t yet faced Houston this season, but have lost seven straight to their rival, including last year’s ALCS sweep.

If the Yankees are to improve their playoff hopes — and demonstrate their playoff worth — by topping three of baseball’s best, Judge will likely need to make an immediate impact.

He knows it, too, returning at less than 100 percent health and without a rehab stint because the season could soon slip away, thanks to an offense averaging less than four runs per game without him.

Last year, Judge carried the Yankees to the postseason, recording a 10.6 WAR that ranks second in the majors — behind Mookie Betts’ 10.7 in 2018 — since Barry Bonds won his final MVP in 2004.

The Yankees' Aaron Judge gestures as he rounds the bases after hitting his 62nd home run of the 2022 season.
It seems impossible for Aaron Judge to match his standard from a record-setting 2022 season, but the Yankees need at least an approximation.

Expecting Judge to immediately return to this season’s 1.078 OPS form without taking one game at-bat since June 3 is unreasonable. It also may be the Yankees’ only hope.

Judge is prepared for what’s ahead. The oft-injured slugger has been placed on the injured list eight times in his eight-year career. His production upon returning from those injuries is mixed.

In his first 10 games after missing nearly two months because of a fractured wrist in 2018, he hit .206 with no home runs. In 2019, he missed two months with an oblique strain, then hit .281 with two homers and 6 RBIs in his first 10 games back. In 2020, Judge hit .194 with no homers in his first 10 games back from a calf strain. In 2021, he hit .263 with one home run after a stint on the COVID-19 list.

Earlier this season, Judge returned from a short stay on the injured list due to a hip injury. In his first 10 games back, he hit .324 with six home runs and 14 RBIs as his OPS leapt from .863 to .993.

Whichever version of Judge returns may tell us who the Yankees really are.

Here lies the 2023 Mets

Late Thursday night, the Mets traded closer David Robertson to the Marlins for a pair of prospects, signaling the beginning of a selloff for a team that began the season with an all-time-costly roster and World Series ambitions.

• Even if the Mets retain slim mathematical playoff hopes (15 percent, per one popular projection) at seven games out of the National League wild card, the trade represents a functional white flag with the calendar still reading July. As The Post’s Jon Heyman put it, “The move may well turn out to be the most prudent thing the Mets did this year. But right now, it feels like a stab to the heart, and a certain season-ender.”

The Mets' David Robertson walks off the mound during a game against the Dodgers.
Mets closer David Robertson is headed to the NL East rival Marlins in a season-altering trade.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

• Attention now will turn to other Mets who might be cashed in before the Aug. 1 trade deadline. The list begins with outfielders Tommy Pham and Mark Canha and lefty reliever Brooks Raley. The most intriguing potential candidates, though less likely to be moved, are $43 million would-be aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

• “It’s not where we want to be. It’s not what we want to be doing. It’s tough,” GM Billy Eppler said after the Robertson trade. “We didn’t have visions of this at the start of the season.”

• Robertson said: “I figured I’d be moved, but I didn’t know where. We had the guys to get it done. We just weren’t able to.”

• The Mets received 18-year-old infielder Marco Vargas (ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the Marlins’ system by MLB Pipeline) and 19-year-old catcher Ronald Hernandez (No. 21). Both players were in Rookie ball.

• And, oh, by the way, the Mets picked up a rain-delayed, 2-1 win over the Nationals at Citi Field. That improved their record to 48-54.

Jonathan Lehman

Today’s back page

The back cover of the New York Post on July 28, 2023.
New York Post

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Jets’ cabin pressure

Aaron Rodgers can’t do it alone.

On the heels of a reworked contract for their star quarterback — Rodgers voluntarily took a roughly $35 million pay cut over the next two seasons — the Jets will attempt to flex their newfound financial muscle while welcoming free agent running back Dalvin Cook for a visit to New Jersey this weekend.

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook runs against the Chicago Bears.
Dalvin Cook was one of the NFL’s most effective running backs in his years with the Vikings.

Cook, who was cut by the Vikings in a cost-saving move in June, has made the Pro Bowl each of the past four seasons and has the third-most rushing yards in the NFL (5,024) since 2019. Following Rodgers’ pay cut, the Jets have nearly $16 million in cap space.

“We’re excited about him and his visit,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said. “It’s really just being able to get to have a conversation, get hands on him.

“He’s been a dynamic ball carrier for a long time. He’s great in the passing game. And so it’s just a matter of, like I said, all the details of that. I’m not going to get too detailed, but you can’t say no to a good football player. They usually find a way.”

The Jets, who have placed second-year running back Breece Hall on the PUP list, have competition for Cook’s services. The biggest threats likely come from the running back’s hometown Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills — who recently lost Nyheim Hines to a season-ending injury — who offer a clearer path to a Super Bowl run.

The report of Cook’s visit came on the same day that the Jets caught a stray from new Broncos coach Sean Payton, who, after attributing Denver’s struggles last season to outsized focus on “PR” and “pomp and circumstance,” segued to a prediction that the new-look Jets will endure a similarly underwhelming campaign.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh talks with Aaron Rodgers during practice.
The spotlight is on Robert Saleh, Aaron Rodgers and the Jets, as is the antagonism of opponents such as Broncos head coach Sean Payton.
Bill Kostroun for the NY Post

“The Jets did that this year,” Payton told USA TODAY. “You watch. ‘Hard Knocks,’ all of it. I can see it coming. Remember when Dan Snyder put that Dream Team together [in Washington]? I was at the Giants [in 2000]. I was a young coach. I thought, ‘How are we going to compete with them? Deion’s [Sanders] there now.’ That team won eight games or whatever.”

Payton’s point could be strengthened, if the Jets bring another star into their huddle.

Or, Cook could help make sure Rodgers doesn’t think twice about his sacrifice.

Halo, not goodbye

In fighting the battle, Arte Moreno is betting that history will forget if he loses the war.

The Angels owner reportedly has taken superstar Shohei Ohtani out of any potential trade talks before the Aug. 1 deadline, hoping his team can end MLB’s longest playoff drought (2014) while helping convince the soon-to-be AL MVP to remain in Anaheim this offseason, when Ohtani becomes a free agent and then signs the most valuable deal in the history of American sports.

Shohei Ohtani watches his home run for the Angels against the Tigers.
Shohei Ohtani showcased his unique baseball skill set Thursday with a shutout on the mound and two home runs at the plate.

The Angels — who closed to three games out of the final AL wild card spot after sweeping a doubleheader from the Tigers on Thursday as Ohtani (who else) threw a one-hitter in Game 1 and launched two home runs in Game 2 — committed to contention by acquiring White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito on Wednesday in exchange for two of their top prospects (catcher Edgar Quero and pitcher Ky Bush).

With Mike Trout nearing a return from injury, the Angels are taking one more swing with their generational superstars.

But chances are — up to a mere 23 percent, according to FanGraphs — the Angels will fall short of the postseason again. It is unlikely that anything that occurs in the final two months of the season will change Ohtani’s future plans.

By keeping Ohtani, Moreno has only ensured two things: 1) Fans will not be able to blame him for trading Ohtani, 2) History will not make him this century’s Harry Frazee, the former Red Sox owner who infamously sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 in 1919.

Moreno has a right to be fearful. It is Frazee’s legacy.

Angels owner Arte Moreno talks with manager Joe Maddon in 2022.
If Arte Moreno didn’t want to be known as the guy who traded the next Babe Ruth, that’s understandable. Just look at what happened to Harry Frazee.

Time erases context (Ruth’s contract holdout, his carousing, his no-shows with the sixth-place team) and can convince later generations that fiction is fact. The Broadway play that Frazee supposedly financed with the money from the Ruth deal didn’t debut until more than five years after the trade.

Moreno has guaranteed he will not earn such infamy. But he also may have ensured that the Angels struggle for years to come. Instead of landing a massive haul in a potential trade for Ohtani, the Angels risk losing the best player in the sport for nothing but a compensatory draft pick, if — likely, when — Ohtani leaves Anaheim for the Dodgers or Giants or Mariners or elsewhere.

Ohtani has spent six seasons with the Angels, never playing on a winning team. Two months won’t change how he wants to spend the next 10 years.

The fight of the year

Errol Spence Jr., left, and Terence Crawford pose at a press conference in Las Vegas.
Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford will meet Saturday night for the right to be called the best welterweight in boxing.

It’s not just the fight of the year — it’s a bout that will define an era.

WBA, WBC and IBF unified champion Errol Spence Jr. (28-0, 22 KOs) and Terence Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs) have long cemented themselves as the best welterweights in the world and two of the best — if not the two best — pound-for-pound boxers in the entire sport.

After years of calling each other out, Spence, 33, and Crawford, 35, finally will fight Saturday night in a 12-round bout for the undisputed welterweight championship at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Showtime pay-per-view.

The two have served as the division’s gatekeepers for years while failing to agree to have this megafight. They share a similar style, too. They have been lauded as two of the most technically gifted fighters in boxing.

Beyond bragging rights, there have only been seven undisputed men’s champions in the four-belt era, including Crawford, who previously earned the distinction at super lightweight.

Prediction: Spence by split decision (followed by a rematch)

Jared Schwartz


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