Remember when analysts agreed that Angels megastar Shohei Ohtani would've won another MVP award in 2022 if not for the special circumstance of Yankees slugger Aaron Judge pairing his exceptional defense with a new American League home run record? Yeah. Clearly, Ohtani took that to heart.
In his free agent walk year and looking to make a positive impression on potential buyers ("Hey, anyone ever heard of this Ohtani guy?!"), the Angels' DH has somehow reached another level in the month of June.
And while this year's early-season chatter centered around Judge maintaining his 2022 pace and carrying the Yankees, against the odds, for the second straight season, his June 3 injury changed everything. Judge proved his explosive 2022 campaign wasn't a fluke. Unfortunately, he also proved his pre-2021 freak injury bugaboo wasn't, either.
During Judge's extended absence, Ohtani has mashed at a superhuman rate, seemingly devising new visual varieties of home run. Opposite field flips that shouldn't travel as far as they do, as effortlessly as they do? Got those! 493-foot monster jobs? Yeah. Judge couldn't rob that one.
In case the MVP horse race wasn't already decided this season, Ohtani's maniacal June sewed up the award, no matter where the Angels ultimately fall in the postseason picture. 15 blasts in the month helped fuel a 1.444 OPS and .394 average, and July hasn't started much slower, with Ohtani adding another homer in his first eight at-bats.
That blast has put him narrowly ahead of Judge's 2022 pace as the second half commences and All-Star break recharge nears.
Can Shohei Ohtani break Aaron Judge's AL Home Run Record in Year 1?
In wins, Ohtani hits .360 with 21 bombs. In losses? .250 with just 10. That's your MVP, even as Judge's case is strengthened with every day he misses.
Perhaps more importantly this season, though, it seems as if Ohtani took last year's slight personally, and has made it his new mission on this planet to obliterate Judge's mark before it even has time to settle and cool on the windowsill.
Last season, Judge rounded the corner into July with 29 homers (Ohtani passed the mark with 30). The Yankees' slugger ultimately endured a "slow" August, alongside the rest of his teammates, posting 9 homers and a 1.091 OPS sandwiched between superior months.
Could Ohtani catch him? Absolutely. On non-start days, all Ohtani does is sit in the dugout for 45 minutes, think about mashing, step to the plate, mash, trot, and move on to the next mashing opportunity. Judge will hold the Yankee record forever, but unfortunately, Ohtani didn't move on to the National League before acting on his urges and starting a grudge.
At the very least, it'd be nice if Ohtani could avoid passing the record in Texas. Don't want that same guy catching both balls.
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