Closing Time: Here comes Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge is on a home-run binge
Aaron Judge is on a home-run binge

The new-look Yankees aren’t throwing too much at Aaron Judge. He’s been in the bottom third of the lineup for every start, and he missed one game in the Baltimore series. But perhaps the Fresno State product is ready to flip the switch, give a jolt to a team that desperately needs one.

Judge clocked a homer in Wednesday’s win over the Rays, giving him three taters in three days. Overall, it’s a .308/.379/.692 slash for the rookie, with a reasonable three walks and a modest six strikeouts. You’ll quickly notice Judge on the field, be it the 6-foot-7 frame or the No. 99 on the back of his jersey. New York doesn’t need Judge to be the great one — they’ll settle for the good one.

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Obviously Yankee Stadium is a juicy spot for a power hitter. It’s jumped right-handed pop by 25 percent over the last three years (and it’s even better for the lefties). Judge hammered 19 homers in 93 games at Triple-A last year, then had a forgettable month with the Yanks. On the eve of his 25th birthday, the timing appears right for a breakout. You can petition the Judge in about 40 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Michael Conforto could be another New York smash — this one on the NL side — but he still has to convince the curious Mets management. Conforto is off to a 4-for-10 start with two homers and two walks — he went deep again on Wednesday. Alas, Terry Collins doesn’t have a dedicated spot for Conforto yet. Would it be the end of the world if Curtis Granderson became a fourth outfielder? Ah, that’s the Mets problem, not mine.

Conforto is held in 17 percent of Yahoo leagues at the moment, a speculation move. I fully understand why Conforto can’t be rostered in some shallow and medium leagues at the moment, but be ready to act fast if anything clears in front of him. Conforto’s talent speaks for itself, it’s just a matter of a spot opening up.

• Even when the Rangers win a game, their bullpen can’t cut us a break. Matt Bush, the logical candidate to step in for slumping Sam Dyson, has a shoulder injury. He’s returned to Texas to get it examined. Tony Barnette was probably going to get Wednesday’s handshake opportunity, but when the Rangers sprang for some extra runs in the ninth, that went out the window. Jose Leclerc wound up with a working-class save, securing the last five outs.

You have plenty of options here. Maybe Dyson gets straightened out. Perhaps Bush’s injury isn’t a big deal. Maybe Jeremy Jeffress’s closing experience gets a nod. It’s possible Leclerc could build on his quick start. Maybe there’s something to Barnette. Or maybe we’re all just throwing darts, as aimlessly as manager Jeff Banister seems to.

• A tip of the cap to good guy Brandon McCarthy, who’s been effective in two six-inning starts (1.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP). Beating the Cubs in Chicago certainly gets our attention; that’s what McCarthy did Wednesday. He’s been fortunate with his strand rate (94.3 percent) and his K/BB rate is a modest 2/1, but anyone pitching for this team (and in LA’s home ballpark) is worth a deeper look. McCarthy has a home-and-home series with the Diamondbacks over the next two weeks.

• I’ve been guilty of overrating Mike Leake in the past, so I’ll try to be careful with his quick start. He rolled past the Reds easily last week, and Wednesday’s turn at Washington was even better (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K). I don’t blame anyone who eschews Leake in a standard roto league, but I could see an ERA in the mid-3s and a WHIP around 1.25 by the end of the year — playable head-to-head stats. If nothing else, let’s put Leake on the streamable radar for next week’s start against Pittsburgh.

• The Reds and Diamondbacks were two of the aggressive baserunning teams last year — only the Brewers swiped more bags. And so far in 2017, Cincinnati and Arizona are keeping the same playbook. Both clubs have 11 bags to show for a week and a half, caught just twice each.

It’s most refreshing from the Arizona side, as some were concerned new manager Torey Luvullo would put some breaks on the running game. Small sample and all, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Six different Snakes have a steal on their ledger, and even the guys in the middle of the lineup are running.

As for the red-light teams, head to the American League. Toronto has just one steal attempt — unsuccessful — and the Angels are stuck on one bag. You can’t blame DH-enhanced clubs, it makes sense to play for the big inning.

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