Led by All-Time Great Lineups, Dodgers and Yankees Are Set to Reignite Historic Rivalry

Los Angeles heads to Yankee Stadium this weekend to renew one of baseball’s classic rivalries—and challenge the Bronx Bombers’ Big 3 with its own set of top-of-the-lineup mashers.
Volpe’s (right) breakout season has made life easier for Judge.
Volpe’s (right) breakout season has made life easier for Judge. / Chadd Cady-USA TODAY Sports

Armageddon awaits. Likely for the first time since the 1978 World Series, the New York Yankees will host the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend with each team claiming first place.

The Yankees have the better offense, the better starting pitching and the better bullpen. The Dodgers have the better defense. Most surprisingly, we all know which team has the better 1-2-3 at the top of the lineup. And it’s not the one with the three Most Valuable Players that even before a box of game balls was cracked open had people scrambling to compare them to the greatest trios ever to top a lineup.

Step aside Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman. You have been upstaged by Anthony Volpe, Juan Soto and Aaron Judge.

First, the cold, hard facts:

R

H

HR

RBI

Total Bases

Avg.

SLG

Volpe, Soto, Judge

131

207

44

125

394

.298

Betts, Ohtani, Freeman

119

215

30

105

366

.311

Second, one 100 mph pitch that helps explains why the Yankees’ trio is better: an 0-and-1 cut fastball to Volpe on Sunday from San Francisco Giants closer Camilo Doval, who had held righthanded batters to a .098 average this year. With one on and one out in the ninth, Doval was holding a two-run lead and a 91.7%-win probability. If he dismissed Volpe, Doval could avoid Judge, whom the Giants had retired only four times in 12 tries in his Bay Area homecoming.

Last season Doval could have exploited multiple holes in Volpe’s swing to put him away. Caught up in an analytical-fueled quest to get balls airborne to the pull side, Volpe swung uphill with too much head movement. He could not hit top-rail fastballs (.125), inside fastballs (.195) or breaking pitches (.148).

To his credit, Volpe re-made his swing over the winter. The holes shrunk.

Doval was about to find this out. He threw a 99.9 mph cutter buried so far inside that it was off the plate. No matter. Volpe 2.0 kept his hands inside the ball and with a short, quick lash carved the pitch into the right-centerfield gap for an RBI triple. He could not do that last year.

With that one swing, another Yankees win was set in motion. Two pitches later, Soto clobbered a high fastball for a go-ahead homer.

A high fastball? Is anybody paying attention? I am astonished how teams keep thinking they can get high fastballs past Soto. This is all you need to know about how to pitch Soto:

Soto by Fastball Height in Zone This Season

Avg.

SLG

HR

Top Third

.459

1.054

7

Middle Third

.447

1.128

8

Bottom Third

.188

.313

0

That’s 15 of his 17 home runs this year resulting from fastballs in the zone belt high or higher. His past 35 home runs off fastballs in the zone have all been middle-up. Soto hasn’t hit a low fastball for a home run in almost a year—since June 14, 2023.

Judge, who is hitting everything, walked, stole second and scored on a Giancarlo Stanton double. In a span of just a dozen pitches, the Yankees scored four times and turned what was about to be a 5–3 loss into a 7–5 win.

Sure, Judge is slugging .658 and Soto has a .417 OBP and Stanton is on pace for 37 homers … all impressive, but … they’ve all been there, done that. All have been better than that in past years. Volpe is the difference maker, slashing .284/.352/.440 a year after going .209/.283/.383. He and Jurickson Profar of the San Diego Padres are the most improved hitters in baseball. Volpe gives the Yankees a leadoff hitter with speed and that kind of OBP for the first time since Derek Jeter in 2009. He creates traffic for Soto and Judge as an elite baserunner (95th percentile).

Volpe’s transformation is extraordinary. Adopting a more traditional, 1980s-type style in the batter’s box, Volpe is embracing groundballs (up from 41% to 52%), hitting the other way (23% to 32%) and putting the ball in play (he has cut his strikeout rate from 28% to 21%)—qualities that are not stressed enough at a time when batting average is the fourth lowest in history (.240).

Try to find another hitter who cut his pull percentage anywhere near what Volpe has done. You won’t. He has cut his pull rate by 21.4% (46.7% to 25.3%). Betts’s 13.8% decline is the next biggest turning away from the pull side.

The Dodgers coming to Yankee Stadium is a clash of titans and the rare renewal of a classic rivalry. The Yankees and Dodgers rank Nos. 1 and 2 in OPS, respectively, and 1 and 3 in home runs, slugging and ERA, respectively.

The Dodgers are 13–24 in the Bronx, including 3–2 in regular season games in 2016 (when the Yankees were in fourth place) and 2013 (when the Dodgers were 29–39). In the postseason, the Yankees own a big edge at home against the Dodgers, 22–10. (The Yankees were a fourth-place team when they met in the 1981 World Series; having qualified for the playoffs in the split season of the strike-marred year by winning the division in the first half.)

From 1941–81 the Yankees and Dodgers met in the World Series 11 times, giving us historic moments at Yankee Stadium such as Johnny Podres’s Game 7 shutout in 1955, Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956, Sandy Koufax’s 15-strikeout game in 1963 and Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in 1977.

The star power is off the charts this weekend. Six of the past 14 MVP Awards have been won by players in this matchup (Ohtani has won two; Judge, Freeman, Betts and Stanton one each). Ohtani is a career .130 hitter at Yankee Stadium, the seventh worst of anyone with 50 plate appearances in the latest version of the yard—but he does have four homers there in just 46 at-bats. Judge has a 1.026 OPS in Yankee Stadium, the highest by any active player in any park with at least 1,500 plate appearances.

Judge has homered in 28% of the games he has played in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees win 79.0% of games when Judge homers in the Bronx (98–26). For some historical perspective, Babe Ruth homered in 27% of his games in the original yard while the Yankees won 77.1% of those games (178–53).

Amid all the MVPs and the monster home run hitters, however, don’t overlook the importance of the 5'9" leadoff hitter for New York looking to make his first All-Star team. Volpe has emerged as an impact player. The Yankees are 27–5 (.844) when Volpe scores a run and 14–14 (.500) when he doesn’t.


Published
Tom Verducci

TOM VERDUCCI

Tom Verducci is a senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated. He’s covered Major League Baseball since 1981. Tom also has been an analyst for Fox and the MLB Network; a New York Times No. 1 bestselling author; and co-host of The Book of Joe podcast with Joe Maddon. A five-time Emmy Award winner across three categories (studio analyst, reporter, short form writing) and nominated in a fourth (game analyst), he’s garnered many honorifics over the years, including three-time National Sportswriter of the Year; two-time National Magazine Award finalist; and Penn State Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient. Tom is a member of the National Sports Media Hall of Fame, Baseball Writers Association of America (including past New York chapter chairman) and a Baseball Hall of Fame voter since 1993. He also is the only writer to be a game analyst for World Series telecasts.