As the race for the batting title heated up last week, one of the frontrunners was nowhere to be found over the weekend. Minnesota Twins second baseman Luis Arráez has missed two of the last three games, coincidentally, right as he took a narrow lead over New York Yankees star Aaron Judge for the top average in the American League.
Some loyalist Yankees fans believe this is a ploy by the Twins to screw Judge out of the Triple Crown (if Judge takes batting average, it’s a wrap) because they know he’s largely going to be walked for the remainder of the year as he chases home run No. 62, which would be a new AL record.
Judge was last leading the batting title race on Sept. 27. Then he went 1-for-4 in Toronto (with HR No. 61!) while Arráez went 2-for-5 at home against the White Sox. Judge had an off day (and was batting .313) on the 29th and Arráez logged two more hits that day (2-for-4) to jump up to .315.
Since then, Judge has played in three games and Arráez sat out two of his team’s three matchups against the Detroit Tigers.
Why is that? According to Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, Arráez has been dealing with a hamstring issue that has “limited his mobility.”
Aaron Judge Triple Crown Watch: Yankees star affected by Luis Arráez injury
Conspiracy? If you dig deeper, you’ll find something, which we’ll show you in a bit. But with the Twins out of the postseason and the 25-year-old Arráez notching a career year, there’s no sense in playing him if there’s a sense he isn’t fully healthy.
Is the timing a bit fishy? Sure. It was right when Arráez took the lead over Judge, and it’s obviously beneficial to sit on the lead and make Judge try and battle back (when you know he’s mostly going to walk) than it is to maintain it with more at-bats. And why is Arráez benched for the opener and finale but playing in the middle on Saturday?
Back on Sept. 14, Arráez left the Twins’ game against the Royals with the same hamstring issue. He logged one at-bat that night and appeared for one at-bat the next day when he was put in the game in the seventh inning. After that, he mostly played the rest of the team’s games with the exception of one inning against the Guardians in the second leg of a double header on Sept. 17, a day off on the 25th for the series finale against the Angels, and most recently his missed time on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.
Oh boy, let’s dig a bit deeper, though. Baldelli benched Arráez on Sept. 30 against the Tigers, who sent lefty Tarik Skubal to the mound that day. Arráez, who hits from the left side of the plate, is batting just .264 against left-handed starters in 2022. Fast forward to Oct. 2, and the Tigers trotted out left-hander Joey Wentz! Another game Arráez sat. Arráez, of course, was in the lineup to face awful right-hander Drew Hutchison on Saturday, though. His other off day on Sept. 25? Lefty Jose Suarez was pitching for the Angels. On Sept. 15? Lefty Daniel Lynch was on for the Royals. Arráez also didn’t play on Oct. 3 against righty Johnny Cueto, but at that point he already led Judge by four batting average points. He was benched on Oct. 4 as Judge continued to chase No. 62 and now he’s back in the lineup for Game 162, needing to go 0-for-8 in order to make this a sweat. OK. Sure. Hamstring.
Injured? Maybe a bit. Sitting against lefties to preserve his average? 100%. Both can be true, but now it’s looking especially nefarious with just one series left in the year as the worldwide Yankees hate starts to boil over.