Greg Bird hits a solo home run in the seventh inning against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium.

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Silverman: Addition Of Bird May Allow Bombers To Fly Past Red Sox

Steve Silverman
May 31, 2018 - 2:26 pm

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are in the early stages of a classic pennant race that has not been seen since Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry and Reggie Jackson were engaging Carl Yastrzemski, Dennis Eckersley and Jim Rice in 1977 and ’78.

The Yankees and Red Sox have engaged in many battles in the ensuing 40 years, but in those two seasons in the late 1970s, both teams were arguably the best in baseball (although the Baltimore Orioles were also quite a powerhouse in ’77). The Red Sox were a tremendous team back then, but the Yankees were just a little bit better and the Bombers ended up winning the World Series both years.

There was no wild card back then, but the two teams ended up in a flat-footed tie in ’78 after the Yankees rallied from a 14-game deficit to pass the Red Sox, only to see Boston come back in deep stretch and tie the Yankees.

The ensuing one-game playoff at Fenway Park on a never-to-be-forgotten fall day was one of the most memorable games in the history of the sport, and it ended with Rick “Goose” Gossage inducing a game-ending pop-up from Yaz.

The record will show that the Yankees and Red Sox were arguably the two best teams in 2004, ’07 and ’09, but it wasn’t quite as clear as it was in the late ‘70s when both teams were so talented and explosive.

Just like those ’77 and ’78 teams, the Yankees and Red Sox are the best two teams in baseball. While both still have a long way to go in the 2018 season, and either one could get bypassed by the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, Washington Nationals or Chicago Cubs at some point, it’s not likely.

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These are baseball’s two best teams, and the Yankees powerful lineup got a major upgrade when Greg Bird returned to the lineup.

The Yankees lineup is loaded with overwhelming power bats including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez. Didi Gregorius has been enduring a dreadful slump, but he still has 11 home runs and 35 RBI. Brett Gardner is a dangerous player who has shown signs that he is ready to hit his stride, and Gleyber Torres is off to a sensational start to his career.

But Bird is the player with the sweetest swing of the bunch, and if he can stay healthy, he may be the player that gives the Yankees the biggest edge on the Red Sox. Bird has had injury problems since he made his debut with the Yankees in 2015, but he has flashed his talent. He hit 11 homers in 178 at bats in ’15 and nine homers last year in 170 at bats.

The left-handed first baseman can take advantage of the short porch at Yankee Stadium, but it is the pristine swing that will make the difference. He will hit home runs, but he is not a bomber in the Judge-Stanton-Sanchez manner. He will hit the ball hard against everyone when he is on, and while the Yankees got stronger by adding him to the lineup, the Red Sox weakened themselves by parting company with Hanley Ramirez. While he slumped in the month of May, Ramirez demonstrated in April that he is still a dangerous power bat.

The Red Sox didn’t want to stay connected to Ramirez and his expensive contract option for 2019, so rather than trade Blake Swihart or some other role player, they let Ramirez go.

Mitch Moreland is off to an excellent start, and Dave Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora believe that Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Moreland are good enough to get the job done.

They have been to this point, where the Red Sox have a slim lead on the Yankees in the AL East, but it’s hard to see the Red Sox maintaining an edge after 162 games.

The addition of Bird and the loss of Ramirez will give the Yankees an edge in the regular lineups, and the Yankees have the better bullpen. The Red Sox may have a slight edge in starting pitching, but those two areas cancel each other out.

If the Red Sox are going to come through in this classic battle, look to the bench. Cora is coming off a sensational year as bench coach with the Astros. Houston manager A.J. Hinch regularly bounced ideas and scenarios off of Cora, and the Houston players loved their manager.

He is a big plus for the Red Sox, because former manager John Farrell was not able to connect with his players in the same manner. Farrell was also unable to quell clubhouse disturbances – see David Price and his tirade vs. Eckersley, now a Red Sox TV analyst, last season.

Aaron Boone is still feeling his way as Yankees manager, and he is likely to face more growing pains than Cora.

There are many baseball fans outside of the East Coast that are either sick of or jealous of the attention that the Yankees-Red Sox conflict gets. However, the 2018 baseball season belongs to these two teams, and the battle through the end of the regular season and playoffs will be a classic chapter in this powerful rivalry.