Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It is a beautiful April 22 in Yankees Universe, fresh off winning a weekend series with the rival Tampa Bay Rays. New York sits atop the AL East at 15-7, a half-game ahead of the suddenly-scary-looking Baltimore Orioles.

Now seems a good time to remind everyone where the team was on this day last season. The New York Yankees beat the Blue Jays 3-2 on a walk-off single by DJ LeMahieu. Giancarlo Stanton was on the injured list along with Harrison Bader. Willie Calhoun and Franchy Cordero were in the starting ilneup. 2023 was rough, wasn’t it?

The Yankees were still a healthy 13-8 and that would be a good record, but for one key detail. That had them third in the AL East and five games behind a surprisingly hot Tampa Bay Rays. New York did not recover and was lucky to finish above .500 for the year.

Not these Yankees. No, this is a different kind of team. The New York Yankees being as good as they are now can only bode well for the rest of the season barring injuries. Want the answer? Read on.

Think of former MVP and team captain Aaron Judge’s entire career. Even going back to his debut season in 2016. What has been the prime common denominator throughout?

Now that the insane Yankees fans have calmed down, here’s the answer: the Yankees’ overall performance is often entirely dependent on Judge. We won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the wins and losses, but everyone has seen it. Once Aaron Judge is either out of the lineup or slumping, the rest of his teammates follow suit at the plate.

Not these New York Yankees.

Think about the current state of the Bronx Bombers. Gerrit Cole is rehabbing an elbow injury and isn’t expected back until late May at the earliest. DJ LeMahieu is out with a broken foot and Gleyber Torres is slumping. Anthony Rizzo looks himself again after his concussion last year, but only has one home run on the year.

Most shocking of all, Aaron Judge is batting an uncharacteristic .180 with just three home runs and 11 RBI. He’s barely above average with a 103 wRC+. He looks genuinely lost at the plate and pressing too much after missing the end of spring training.

And yet, the New York Yankees sit in first place. And the next four games are against the lowly Oakland A’s.

Fans may not realize it now, but this bodes well for the Yankees for the rest of the season. Judge is absolutely going to find his swing again, and probably soon. Same with Torres and Rizzo, and hopefully Austin Wells.

You think Juan Soto has electrified the Yankees’ lineup now? Just imagine once everyone is locked in.

Dare we say it, but are the New York Yankees we know and love back? It’s sure looking like that, and you can tell that to the Judge.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.