NEW YORK -- The way Aaron Judge views it, every chapter of the sensational year that made him a near lock for the American League Rookie of the Year Award and a front-runner for the AL Most Valuable Player Award was just a prelude. The real season starts tonight, when the Yankees take the field for the AL Wild Card Game against the Twins.
"That's what it's all about, postseason baseball," Judge said. "The regular season, it's kind of like Spring Training's over. This is the regular season now. This is what it's all about. This is where a lot of those [retired] numbers that are hanging out there in left field, this is where they made a name for themselves, in the postseason."
Judge paced the AL with 52 home runs, joining Ted Williams and Al Rosen as the only rookies ever to tally at least 100 runs, 100 walks and 100 RBIs in a single season, leading the circuit with 128 runs and 127 walks. Judge also led the Majors with 208 strikeouts, but his massive power has the potential to give Yanks starter Luis Severino a lead at any moment.
"We're just going to try to treat it like we have the whole season coming here," Judge said. "We played well at home. I think once Sevy throws that first pitch and we get the game rolling, it will all be the same. I think the buildup before the game is nerve-wracking, but once we step out on the field, it's the same game we've been playing since we were little kids."
In 84 games prior to the All-Star Game, Judge batted .329 with 30 homers, 66 RBIs and an otherworldly 1.139 OPS. He slumped for six weeks after, but came back on fire in September, hitting .311 with 15 homers, 32 RBIs and a 1.352 OPS in his final 27 games of the season.
"I think the ups and downs he went through the past couple years has prepared him for this," manager Joe Girardi said. "He struggled last year. He made adjustments. He was hot as could be until the All-Star break. He went through some more struggles, came back, and his September might have been his best month. So yes, I do feel really good about him."
While the Yankees learned the hard way in 2015 that anything can happen in a nine-inning game, they are gleaning some confidence from their past performance against Twins starter Ervin Santana, who is 6-10 with a 5.66 ERA in 20 career starts vs. New York. They faced Santana in a 2-1 win on Sept. 18, when the right-hander allowed two runs and seven hits over 5 2/3 innings, including Judge's 44th homer.
"It's nice to be facing a guy who you've had a little bit of success off of," said Brett Gardner, who had three hits that day and is 11-for-31 (.355) lifetime off Santana. "He's a really good pitcher. He's had a really good year. He's throwing the ball as hard and as good and his offspeed stuff is as good as it's ever been this year. He's had a really great season, so it's not something you can look past."
Girardi said that he was not yet prepared to reveal his roster for the Wild Card Game, but he did say that the club will carry 10 pitchers and 15 position players. New York carried nine pitchers for its 2015 Wild Card Game against the Astros. Rosters must be submitted to Major League Baseball by 10 a.m. ET today.
"To me, I feel good about going in," Girardi said. "It's a one-game playoff. It really is going to come down to execution of pitches and defense and putting a good swing on a baseball. So there's two teams that are going to fight like heck tomorrow, and one of us is not going to move on, but I really like the way we've been playing."
Girardi also said that he had not set his roster, nor decided if Matt Holliday would serve as his designated hitter. Despite solid career numbers against Santana, Holliday did not play when the Yankees faced the hurler on Sept. 18.
"There's a lot of things that are going into this," Girardi said. "There are some tough decisions. And those are things that we have talked about for the last three or four days. We'll probably have one more discussion. I'll try to inform players who's going to play tomorrow so they're prepared."
The Yankees dressed the Judge's Chambers area for the postseason on Monday, draping red, white and blue bunting over its wooden walls. They announced that seating in the popular right-field attraction will be devoted to celebrating young fans and everyday heroes in the community throughout the team's October run.
Students from P.S. - M.S. 89 in the Bronx will be recognized for their academic achievement and dedication to their community with seats in the Judge's Chambers for tonight's AL Wild Card Game. A number of these students will be attending their first Yankees game. The students are receiving their tickets as part of a league-wide postseason effort by Major League Baseball.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.