NEW YORK — Aaron Judge is one home run shy of tying the major league rookie record, and he hopes to make history at the same time the New York Yankees clinch home field in the wild-card game.
Judge is one homer shy of Mark McGwire’s 1987 record of 49 set in 1987. He gets his first chance to tie and possibly break the mark Monday in a makeup game against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium.
New York heads into its final seven games with a 4 1/2-game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the wild-card race, and Judge is among the reasons the Yankees are planning for the postseason.
He homered twice Sunday in New York’s 9-5 loss at Toronto. After slumping through August with a .185 average (17-for-92), Judge is hitting .296 (21-for-71) with 11 homers and 23 RBIs in 21 games this month.
Judge’s turnaround has helped the Yankees go 16-7 in their past 23 games since getting swept in a three-game series Aug. 28-30 by the Cleveland Indians.
“I am swinging at the right pitches, getting into good counts and swinging at the right pitches,” Judge said. “The biggest thing is to win the ballgame. Do whatever I can to help the team get to October.”
The Yankees clinched at least a wild-card spot with a 4-1 win at Toronto on Saturday, but by losing two of three over the weekend, they are five games behind the Boston Red Sox for the division title.
The Red Sox have a magic number of three to secure the division, and the Yankees own a magic number of three to ensure the wild-card game takes place in New York.
“If it happens, it happens,” Yankees first baseman Chase Headley said of coming back to win the division. “If it doesn’t, then we’ll figure out the wild-card thing. You couldn’t really ask for us to play any better than we have this month. Unfortunately, Boston got hot at the same time.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of the division deficit: “It’s getting fairly large with seven games to go. Obviously, we’re going to keep playing, but I think you have to start to think ahead a little bit, too. It’s frustrating because we’ve played really well the last six weeks.”
The Royals (76-79) are on the verge of officially being eliminated from the wild-card race after managing five hits during an 8-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
Kansas City is 5 1/2 games behind Minnesota for the second wild card but can’t be eliminated Monday because the Twins are idle.
The Royals reached three games above .500 at 64-61 on Aug. 23, but they are 12-18 in their past 30 games. They are 4-6 on their final road trip of the season after Lorenzo Cain’s 15th homer accounted for their lone run Sunday.
Kansas City’s showing on this road trip has mirrored its season-long inconsistencies away from home. The Royals began the season by dropping 11 of its first 13 road games, then won 23 of its next 37, but since July 31 they are 12-18 away from home.
CC Sabathia (12-5, 3.81 ERA) will start for the Yankees on Monday, looking to remain unbeaten since returning from a brief stint on the disabled list. Since coming back from a knee injury Aug. 19, Sabathia is 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA in his past six starts.
Sabathia got the win Tuesday when he allowed two runs and six hits in six innings during New York’s 5-2 victory over Minnesota.
Lifetime against the Royals, Sabathia is 20-11 with a 3.11 ERA in 38 starts. The veteran left-hander beat the Royals on May 16 in Kansas City, allowing five hits in 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
Jakob Junis (8-2, 4.05 ERA) makes his 15th start and takes a six-game winning streak into Monday. Since July 24, he is 6-0 with a 2.96 ERA in his past 10 appearances.
“I’ve just been impressed with his consistency,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He doesn’t get rattled. He just goes out there every start and hits his spots and performs like a veteran.”
Junis last pitched Wednesday in a 15-5 rout at Toronto in which he allowed four runs (two earned) and three hits in 6 1/3 innings. He improved to 6-2 on the road, and his six road wins are tied for the fifth most by a Royals rookie.
“He comes out and throws strikes,” Yost said. “That’s what you like to see.”