by Paul West
The Mets are in one of the best strategic positions in baseball, with an eight-game lead in their division and their magic number down to nine. They’re a whopping twenty games over .500, and have spent the past six weeks shocking baseball with one of the most dramatic turnarounds ever. They do, however, have concerns: the health of the young aces at the top of their pitching staff; the consistency of the middle portion of the bullpen; the long-term commitment level of Yoenis Cespedes; and managing their various platoon situations in order to keep everyone clicking. They would also prefer to have home-field advantage in a potential NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom they’re neck-and-neck in the overall standings. Last but not least, they have the still-looming shadow of their historic late-season collapses of 2007 and 2008, as well as their failure to win the 2006 pennant despite being the best team in the National League that year. The Washington Nationals have heated up, and while they aren’t exactly breathing down the Mets’ necks, it behooves the Amazins to keep their eyes on the prize and ignore the narratives swirling around what might be their first division title since ’06.
The Yankees are in an entirely different position. Like the Mets, they’ve had a stronger campaign than many expected from them this season. But unlike the Mets, their playoff position is far more tenuous. They trail the Toronto Blue Jays by three games in the loss column with just over two weeks left in the season, and the big-hitting Jays aren’t showing signs of slowing down. The Yanks are up four games in the Wild Card race, but a Wild Card berth would make them subject to a one-and-done showdown against the Houston Astros. Health is as big a concern for the Yankees as it is for the Mets, if not bigger: C.C. Sabathia‘s years of innings-crunching have caught up with him precipitously, Masahiro Tanaka is pitching through residual arm troubles after last year’s Tommy John surgery, and aging but resurgent slugger Alex Rodriguez is being closely watched for wear and tear. The Yankees’ situation is far more urgent than that of their crosstown rivals, and these are must-win games for them.
What all this adds up to is an atmosphere of greater anticipation than we’ve seen for any in-season Subway Series in a while. “It’s going to feel like playoff baseball,” commented Yankees manager Joe Girardi, and all signs indicate he couldn’t be more right. It could be argued that both teams have been playoff baseball for weeks now, albeit from different situational angles. The pregame energy is high, an entire city of baseball fans awaits, and two divisional races could be all but decided in the next three days.