Now that Greg Bird is back with the New York Yankees, he has the potential to do what he did just two years ago: prevent total collapse.
How could it not?
After hitting eight home runs and posting an astronomical 1.654 OPS in 51 Spring Training at-bats, Bird gave us all a reminder of the hitter who posted a .261/.343/.529 slash line with 11 home runs and 31 RBI’s down the stretch in 2015. Then, a frustrating ankle injury suffered at the end of camp sparked an early-season slump before Bird hit the disabled list.
The 24-year-old would go onto miss 103 games thanks to that injury — and surgery on his os trigonum bone — but he returned to New York this week fully healthy and ready for the most crucial month of the season. Suddenly, he’s starting to remind everyone yet again that he can produce in the heat of a pennant race.
On Wednesday afternoon, in Game 2 of a doubleheader with the Cleveland Indians, Bird drove in all four of the Yankees’ runs with an RBI single in the second and a three-run home run in the ninth. Since his reinstatement from the DL, Bird has gone 4-for-14 (.286) with two walks, two runs scored, a home run and six RBI’s.
The jury is still out on whether Bird will be able to stay healthy as the Yankees look to put some pressure on the Boston Red Sox in the American League East race next month. After missing all of the 2016 season due to shoulder surgery and dealing with his ankle issues this year, he needs to prove that he can be depended on for the entirety of a baseball season.
What he has proven in the past, however, is that he can make an impact not only in a postseason race but to also step up when his team needs him the most.
Going back to that 2015 season, Bird stepped in admirably after All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira went down with a broken leg. He was also asked to carry an enormous burden in the lineup as Alex Rodriguez slashed a mere .191/.300/.377 in August and September. If it weren’t for Bird’s production — six of 11 home runs were go-ahead shots — and clutch hits in big spots, New York might not have held on to that first Wild Card spot.
Now, almost exactly two years later, he’s jumping into a similar scenario. As rookie sensation Aaron Judge continues his free-fall since the All-Star break (.179/.341/.352), Bird may be the spark the Yankees need to make a real run at Boston, who lead them by five games in the AL East entering a four-game weekend series in the Bronx.
It’s the potential he has shown, when healthy, that makes his organization believe he is the long-term answer at first. It’s why Yonder Alonso or Lucas Duda wasn’t traded for in July and could, like it did when New York was chasing the Blue Jays in 2015, impact their postseason hopes.