By NOAH TRISTER
AP Baseball Writer
Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols could make this a milestone week for home runs. Judge hit two more Sunday, raising his season total to 59, two shy of Roger Maris’ American League record. Now the slugger returns to Yankee Stadium, where New York plays its next six games. Pujols, meanwhile, is somewhat improbably closing in on the 700-homer mark after hitting 12 since the start of August.
Judge’s pursuit of Maris has stirred debate over how to put this AL record in context, should he break it. He’s unlikely to threaten Barry Bonds’ major league record of 73, but that mark, as well as the exploits of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa around the same time, have become complicated by performance-enhancing drug suspicions.
There’s one way in which Judge likely will surpass both Bonds and Maris, no matter how many more homers he hits. Right now, he has an incredible 20-homer lead over Kyle Schwarber, who is second in the majors. Nobody has led baseball in homers by at least 20 since Babe Ruth finished with 54 in 1928 and nobody else had more than 31.
Maris led the majors by only seven when he hit 61, and Bonds led by nine when he hit 73.
Judge is also in the mix for the AL Triple Crown — he’s leading big in homers and RBIs and just one point behind batting leader Luis Arraez — but that won’t sort itself out until closer to the end of the season.
The 42-year-old Pujols, who is retiring at the end of the season, is trying to become the fourth major leaguer to reach 700 homers, following Bonds, Hank Aaron and Ruth. Unlike Judge, he won’t be going for his milestone at home this week. St. Louis’ next eight games are on the road against the Padres, Dodgers and Brewers.
CUTTING IT CLOSE
Is it possible the Padres won’t even make the playoffs after pulling off the blockbuster trade for Juan Soto? San Diego holds the second wild card in the National League at the moment, but the Padres are only a half-game ahead of Philadelphia and 2 1/2 ahead of Milwaukee.
San Diego is 24-20 since the start of August for a .545 winning percentage — after going 57-46 (.553) before that. Soto has hit only .221 since joining the Padres.
San Diego did win the last three games of a series with Arizona, with Soto hitting his first homer this month Sunday.
Who is the most recent player to lead the majors in home runs by double digits?
LINE OF THE WEEK
While Schwarber is second in the majors in home runs with 39, Houston’s Yordan Alvarez is second to Judge in the AL with 37. He homered in his first three at-bats Friday night in the Astros’ 5-0 victory over Oakland.
Honorable mention: In that same game, Justin Verlander came back from the injured list for Houston and threw five no-hit innings before being removed.
COMEBACK OF THE WEEK
It’s actually a double dose this week.
On Tuesday night, Texas trailed Oakland 7-2 in the fifth inning before rallying for an 8-7 victory. Mark Mathias homered twice, including a solo shot in the ninth to win it. The Athletics had a 94.8% chance to win in the fifth inning, according to Baseball Savant.
The next night, the script was flipped. Oakland beat Texas 8-7 after the Rangers were up 5-1 after four. The win probability for Texas peaked at 93.2%. The A’s completed their comeback with two runs in the top of the ninth, with the go-ahead run coming in on an error by shortstop Corey Seager.
Jose Bautista hit 54 home runs in 2010, finishing 12 ahead of Pujols.