On the Major League Baseball calendar, it is still a long way from the end of September, when division titles and wild-card berths are decided. The All-Star Game break, the traditional dividing line between the first and second halves of the season, which this year begins on July 12, is over three weeks from today. So it’s too early to dismiss or cement most teams’ chances to make it to the postseason.
The Yankees and the Mets, New York’s two MLB franchises, are viewed through disparate lenses. The Yankees are expected to annually compete for a World Series title in contrast to the Mets, whose history has seen short periods of prosperity and long spans of futility. They have been a tale of two cities, the Yankees a representation of the upper economic and social class, and the Mets symbolizing the working class.
Thus far this season, they have been trending in uncharacteristically opposite directions. At the start of the week, the Yankees were in an unfamiliar position. With a record of 33-32, they were 8.5 games behind the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees were also looking up at the second place Boston Red Sox and third place Toronto Blue Jays. The only team in the division with a worse record was the perennial bottom-dwelling Baltimore Orioles.
On Sunday, after his troops were swept in a three-game road series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the beleaguered Yankees manager Aaron Boone lashed out at a reporter who asked him if his team had become used to losing.
“No,” Boone emphatically responded. “I know them too well and I don’t think there’s any getting used to freakin’ losing. Hell no!” He then capped off his anger by saying, “Get the hell out of here with that!” Despite making the playoffs in 21 of the past 25 seasons, the Yankees haven’t won a World Series title since 2009.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been rising frustration among their fan base and speculation coming from various media sources that Boone’s job is in jeopardy. More so than Boone, it is Yankees general manager Brian Cashman who is accountable for the team’s substandard results.
Wholly shackled to analytics, Cashman has ostensibly abandoned fundamental concepts of the game such as assembling a balanced lineup of contact hitters, moving runners from base to base and valuing speed on the bat paths, for the philosophy of chasing all or nothing home runs, counterintuitively concluding that moderate homer to high strikeout ratios for batters is a logical winning concept. The Yankees’ .234 batting average was 19th out of MLB’s 30 teams when they began a three-game series on Tuesday versus the Blue Jays in Toronto.
On the other hand, the Mets were 33-25 after a 5-2 win over the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field on Monday, the opener of a four-game series. They were in first place in the National League East, although the Mets had played five less games than the second place Phillies—who they led by 3.5 games—due to COVID-19 postponements early in the season.
Despite a rash of injuries, the Mets were riding the strength of their pitching staff, anchored by the historically great starter Jacob de Grom. After carrying the Mets to a 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres last Friday, de Grom, who was 6-2, had the lowest ERA ever through 10 starts since ERA became an official statistic in 1913. At 0.56, it was slightly below Hall of Famer Juan Marichal’s 0.59 in 1966.
Mets cynics still need to see them deep in the pennant race in late summer to believe they are a contender. That’s fair given their past failures. But right now they look like a much smarter bet than the Yankees to be playing games in the fall.