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The Yankees add key players for the stretch run

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Other teams made splashy headline-grabbing trades at the deadline. The Yankees have quietly gotten their injured stars back.

Matt Holliday hits a three-run homer against the Red Sox, which proved to be the game winner, in his return on September 2nd.
Matt Holliday hits a three-run homer against the Red Sox, which proved to be the game winner, in his return on September 2nd.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Minutes before the trade deadline, last year's AL Cy Young runner-up Justin Verlander decided to waive his no-trade clause and join the Astros for their playoff push. August 31st is not typically a day when in-prime stars change teams, but this year was a whirlwind that also saw Justin Upton land with the Angels.

Every media outlet trumpeted the unprecedented nature of these moves, declaring both franchises the undisputed winners of this year's August trade sweepstakes. Meanwhile, the Yankees acquired veteran backup catcher Erik Kratz from Cleveland.

So does that make the Yankees the losers? Hardly. Brian Cashman didn't need to make any blockbuster trades on August 31st because the Yankees were quietly getting their injured stars back.

Matt Holliday was activated from the disabled list on September 2nd and promptly hit a tiebreaking three-run homer which proved to be the game winner. He homered again the following day to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. That dinger also would have been the game winner if not for a late Red Sox run during garbage time.

Holliday has a penchant for getting clutch hits. Eight of his home runs this year have put the Yankees ahead. With runners in scoring position, he is slugging .667 with eight home runs and 43 runs batted in during his injury shortened 2017 campaign. He boasts a 1.062 OPS in 65 high-leverage plate appearances.

The right-handed hitting DH was off to a great start in his first season with the Bronx Bombers. Prior to coming down with a virus during the Yankees' West Coast trip that began on June 12th, Holliday slashed .284/.384/.538 with 13 home runs and 44 runs batted in over 57 games.

To his credit, Holliday tried to play through the ailment, but the results weren't there and he obviously wasn't himself. Following a long stint on the DL and rehab time, Holliday is back and appears to be in top form.

Prior to that fateful West Coast trip, the Yankees were 37-23 and sitting atop the AL East. Then they went through a 34-40 stretch — nearly half a season of sub .500 baseball. New York is 5-2 since Holliday's return. Coincidence? I think not. Matt Holliday's health and productivity could very well prove to be the key to success for the Yankees this year.

A longtime star in the National League, Holliday was signed in the offseason to be the big bat in the middle of a mostly young lineup. When healthy, he has done exactly what the Yankees brought him in to do. He's also provided important veteran leadership to the team both on and off the field.

During the meltdown in Detroit, I remember thinking that there's no way the Yankees would lose focus like that and kick away a winnable game for the sake of a beanball war and brawl if Matt Holliday was there. Yes, we're very fortunate to have Holliday healthy and back in the fold right when we need him most.

Holliday is not the only key player to return. Four-time All-Star Starlin Castro finally rejoined the team on August 25th after missing more than a month. The second baseman was having a fabulous season, and was selected to the All-Star team for the first time in his two-year Yankees career before getting hurt at the end of June.

Castro has slashed .327/.364/.519 with two home runs and 10 runs batted in over 14 games since his return. Joe Girardi has frequently hit him third, fourth, or fifth — and Castro has produced. While Ronald Torreyes did a fine job filling in, the Yankees are a much better team with their star second baseman in the starting lineup every day.

Greg Bird is also back after missing most of the season with an unknown injury that delayed his return. Tabbed to be the starting first baseman prior to the season, his struggles have led to the Yankees using 10 different players at that position this year.

With slick-fielding Todd Frazier entrenched at third base and hot-hitting Chase Headley getting most of the starts at first, Bird seems to have been relegated to a part-time role for now. He has, however, appeared in all but one of the Yankees' games since returning on August 26th. Bird's lefty bat gives Girardi a valuable weapon that has been sorely missed.

At a time when other teams went outside their organizations for help, the Yankees have gotten a tremendous boost from within. The expected Opening Day starting lineup of Holliday, Judge, Ellsbury, Gardner, Gregorius, Headley, Castro, Bird, and Sanchez never materialized. Amazingly, that lineup only recently came together. The team is finally healthy at just the right time.

What do you think about the Yankees' injured players returning? Will they provide the boost that is needed to push the team over the top? Let us know in the comments section below.