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Yankees’ Big 3 was everything they hoped for

SAN DIEGO — Kendrick Lamar scoffed at any idea of ​​there being a Big 3 in the rap world. “F- the Big 3. It’s just Big Me!”

These lyrics were a response to Drake’s and J. Cole’s collaboration on “First Person Shooter,” which launched Lamar into the pantheon of contemporary rappers. The two songs sparked a month-long firestorm that saw Drake and Lamar release diss tracks on each other, with Cole choosing to shut down the battle before it intensified.

In 2023, Aaron Judge was the Kendrick Lamar of the New York Yankees offense. It was just Big Him. No one else came close to his production when he was healthy.

In 2023, Giancarlo Stanton was J. Cole’s offense for the Yankees. Cole is one of the best lyricists of his generation, but he chose to remain silent when the attention was on him. Judge missed two months last season due to his right big toe injury. When the Yankees needed Stanton to step up, he didn’t.

In 2023, Juan Soto was Drake. Drake is the hitmaker, the superstar, and the rapper who delivers No. 1 records to everyone associated with him in song, including Lamar. He was the star of the trading market. The Yankees traded for him to bring together Judge, Stanton and Soto with the hopes of an explosive offense that was extinct in 2023.

Cole once knocked, “They act as if legends cannot coexist.” For two months of the 2024 season, the Yankees are living out the manifestation of Cole’s lyrics.

Judge, Soto and Stanton all homered in Friday’s 8-0 win over the San Diego Padres. Each of the Yankees’ sluggers are in the top 10 of MLB’s home run leaders. Judge ranks third with 16, Soto fifth (14) and Stanton seventh (13). Their combined 43 home runs match the most the Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals have each hit. It’s more than the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox.

“We were dealing with lineups like the Dodgers, where it seems like you have Mookie (Betts), (Shohei) Ohtani and (Freddie) Freeman,” former Yankees swingman, now Padres starter, Michael King said before the game. “It’s a similar style where you have to make sure you’re ready for those guys and you also have to make sure there’s not a lot of people on base when they’re on because that’s when real damage happens.”

King, who was at the center of the Soto trade, said he helped with scouting reports before the three-game series started Friday night. He won’t be giving up his day job anytime soon. After hearing loud boos during his first plate appearance in San Diego, Soto crushed a 450-foot, two-run home run off Padres starter Yu Darvish, who entered on a career-high 25-inning scoreless streak.

“It’s not surprising at all,” Soto said when asked about the Yankees’ success against Darvish. “We have been doing this since the first day of the season.”

Judge then followed Soto for the duo’s first back-to-back blasts of the season. He sat on a hanging slider and sent it 400 feet into the second deck of Petco Park, over the left-field wall. It was Judge’s 10th home run in his last 18 games. Judge had a .725 OPS through May 2. He now ranks third in the MLB with a 1.030 OPS. Entering Friday’s game, Judge and Soto combined for a 182 wRC+, the best mark for any No. 2 and 3 hitter in the MLB.

“It’s a good lineup, period,” Darvish said through Padres interpreter Shingo Horne. “You have those two guys at the heart of the lineup. And I can’t really say much more. It’s a good line-up.”

Stanton was one of the biggest surprises for the Yankees. The slugger has been a disappointment dating back to the second half of the 2022 season. After undergoing a body transformation and swing changes, Stanton has an .815 OPS. One notable difference this season is that even if the Yankees’ designated hitter isn’t hitting home runs, he’s still a damage threat. That wasn’t always the case last season.

He has always had the ability to be the king of exit velocity and hit huge home runs, like the one he hit on the second balcony of the brick Western Metal Supply Co. building. hit to cap a five-run third inning for the Yankees. For Stanton, however, everything between the home runs has been a struggle over the past year and a half. He said it has been a satisfying start to the season as he sees results after a period of changes in the offseason.

“The best thing is that he’s so present right now in the middle of the order,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Whether he comes through or not, I think you’ll see the presence that he’s in our lineup and obviously it’s tough having to navigate Juan and Judgey there and then (Alex Verdugo) there, but then G waits there, and you know how dangerous he is. And he felt like a real threat to me every day he was there.

The Yankees aren’t 36-17 just because of Judge, Soto and Stanton. Their starting pitching was outstanding. Their bullpen has the second-lowest ERA. Anthony Volpe took the leap in his second year. Contributions come from virtually everyone on the roster.

So to judge, there is no Big 3 for the Yankees. This isn’t the Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or the Golden State Warriors with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Judge may not like the Big 3 label, but so does the way he, Soto and Stanton have performed.

“We’re a Big 9. We’re a Big 26,” Judge said. “Everyone in this clubhouse, man, plays a big role. I would never limit it to just one man. Every man is a stud in his own right. We are part of something special.”

(Photo of Juan Soto celebrating with Aaron Judge after hitting a two-run home run on Friday: David Frerker / USA Today)