By Neil Keefe
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June was everything I could have hoped for. The Yankees entered the month at 30-23 with a one-game lead in the AL East. They left it at 48-31 with a 2.5-game lead after going 18-8 in the month. Aside from that forgetful three-game series against the Red Sox from June 7-9, the Yankees went 7-1 in their June series. So yeah, June was pretty awesome.
And what made it even better is that the 1927 Yankees (the 2011 Red Sox for those of you that are out of the loop) stumbled in interleague play (3-6 in their last nine games) and don’t look like a team that is going to win 110 games like some Boston writers thought. I guess Daisuke Matsuzaka isn’t going to be an All-Star and the best fifth starter after all, and that vaunted bench led by Mike Cameron (who got DFA’d) isn’t exactly as deep as previously thought to be. But, hey, it’s hard to be right when you’re comparing a good team to the greatest team ever! No big deal.
As the Yankees closed out June with a sweep of the Brewers (I’m still trying to figure out how they are the best team in the NL Central and just how bad the NL Central really is), they got some help from some unpredictable sources in the series finale…
Francisco Cervelli went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
Andruw Jones went 1-for-2 with a walk.
Boone Logan faced one left-handed hitter (Prince Fielder) and struck him out. (But not before he almost gave up a two-run bomb that John Sterling tricked me into thinking was gone).
It was just 10 days ago that I called for the trio (this year’s version of the Goof Troop) to be designated for assignment, and they have all responded with performances worthy of staying on the roster. I’m not saying they should stay on the roster, but at least they’re listening. Maybe you just have to stay on top of them to get performances worthy of being in the majors.
And before June ended, I deconstructed a John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman broadcast and the duo went the entire game on Tuesday night without saying, “You can’t predict baseball.” They didn’t even say the word “predict” in any way. It was the biggest upset of the season. Maybe even bigger than the Pirates being 41-39 right now. Is there anyone that isn’t pulling for the Pirates to have a winning season?
But that’s not where the unpredictable world of baseball stops. The Mets, yes the Mets, are a game above .500, keeping their fans around just long enough to care before their inevitable demise. And this weekend we’re lucky enough to get the second installment of the Subway Series at Citi Field, where the American League’s best team will take on the National League’s ninth-best team — which is a moral victory in Queens.
You can’t predict what will happen this weekend at Citi Field though I know two people that will try, but you can look at what’s at stake with some of the story lines involving the city’s two teams. Here are five topics of conversation that will be covered on TV and radio broadcasts during all three games this weekend.
1. Both teams are good (Well, one team is good and one team is good — right now)
It seems like for the first time in forever both the Yankees and the Mets are relevant for the second Subway Series of the season. After the 2006 season, I didn’t think we would see a juice-less Subway Series for a long time, but then we saw a bunch after the Mets went from one out from being in the World Series to one big joke in the sports world in the course of four seasons.
I was legitimately scared during the 2006 NLCS that the Mets were going to reach the World Series, and, gulp, perhaps even win the whole thing. I thought the New York baseball scene might flip on its head and Mets fans would finally have a reason to brag and gloat about their team. I had the same scary feeling with the Jets the past two seasons, but like the Mets, I worried for nothing.
Right now the Mets are hot. Not as hot as the Yankees, but hot in Mets terms, which usually means having won a series or two in the last few weeks. They are over .500 and for a team that started the season at 5-13 (they have gone 36-27 since) I don’t think anyone thought that on the first weekend in July the Mets would be a game over .500, let alone 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot.
And the best or funniest part about this whole thing is that this Omar Minaya’s team. No, he is no longer part of the Mets and probably shouldn’t be allowed on the Citi Field premises, but these are his guys surprising the baseball world. That doesn’t mean that anyone should listen to this general managerial advice (especially the Phillies who he was giving his take on the other day), but it’s funny that the guy no longer employed by the team is the reason the team is still afloat in July.
The Yankees are sitting atop the American League and the Mets are sitting in at least playoff contention talk. It’s not the ideal Subway Series matchup, but it’s a lot better than anyone could have thought two months ago.
2. The Mets Think They Are Better Than They Are
You never want to play a team that’s playing with house money and thinks they are good. And you never want your team playing against a team with a fan base that needs the slightest hint of winning to think they are good. This is the New York Mets and their fans.
Yes, the Mets are “good” right now, but Mets fans tend to think that “good” is “great and that “great” is “dominant,” so it’s not wonder that Mets fans think the team is actually a real postseason option. When you look at the teams ahead of the Mets (Atlanta, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati), the only team that might be actually worse than the Mets are the Pirates. All of the other teams are better and deeper and two of them (Atlanta and Cincinnati) were in the postseason last year.
The Yankees can go into Citi Field and embarrass the Mets and send Queens back to reality by Sunday night, or the Mets can win or sweep the series, force the WFAN phone lines to be busy 24/7 for the next week and give the Mets an ego before they lose nine of 10 at some point in July or August.
I love the Subway Series the same way I love Yankees-Red Sox, but the same territory comes with both: The Yankees and Yankees fans have nothing to gain an everything to lose. If the Yankees win, they’re supposed to win. And if they lose, it’s an embarrassment. Please sweep the Mets.
3. The Six-Man Rotation
I’m completely against a six-man rotation, but it seems like Joe Girardi would completely be for because it makes no sense. Let’s take away starts from CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon! Wooooooooooo! Let’s water down the rotation! Let’s not have the best five guys throwing in turn!
Girardi said that he isn’t opposed to six-man rotation and maybe he was just giving one his neutral press conference answers to avoid further questions and follow-up questions? Maybe Girardi just doesn’t want to make a decision? Maybe he doesn’t know what the decision should be? I don’t know what it is, but he has to make a decision and that decision should be Ivan Nova to the bullpen. Yes, Nova has been good of late, but if Phil Hughes if healthy enough that he is throwing in the mid-90s and isn’t going to be on and off the DL for the rest of the year then he gets his spot back and Nova loses his spot. It’s not fair for Nova, who was 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA in five starts in June, but someone has to be the fall guy and he’s it.
4. Free Agency And Trades
The real story regarding the Mets this season hasn’t been that they are playing above their heads with an unstable rotation on paper and without both of their corner infielders. The real story has been that they might trade Jose Reyes during the year or lose him at the end of it. That along with the idea that Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez might not be Mets within the next 30 days.
I look at Reyes like the girl your buddy is buying drinks for all night at the bar, but you know she is just going to end up going home with someone else. The Mets drafted Reyes, groomed him, brought him up and now are about to lose the so-called “most exciting player in the game.”
I think the Mets have to find a way to keep Reyes. He is the New York Mets. He represents everything they have been through in the last six years and that’s a big part of who the Mets are. As much as I dislike the Mets and their fans, they deserve to have a face of their franchise and Reyes is it, even more so than David Wright at this point. The last thing that franchise needs is him playing shortstop for the Phillies in 2012 or possibly the Red Sox (though I’m not sure John Henry cares enough about baseball to dish out another $100 million-plus contract). The last time the Yankees and Mets met, Reyes was having a solid bounce back year, but now he is having an all-time year. The Yankees will see what everyone has been talking about for the last month in full force this weekend.
As for Beltran and K-Rod, I think they’re both gone. Well, unless the Mets can close this 5 1/2-game gap by three or four in the next two weeks. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense for a .500 team to hang on to two guys that are crushing their payroll and who the team really has no use for at this point. If the Yankees can find a move that works for one or both of them, I’m all for it.
5. The Pitching Matchups
I’m pretty excited for the three matchups this weekend. You have two youngsters on Friday (Nova-Niese), the former Cy Young against the young gun (Colon-Gee) on Saturday and the vets on Sunday (Garcia-Dickey). The Mets dodge a bullet with CC having pitched on Thursday and the Yankees dodge a bullet that Burnett won’t have to face an offense clicking on all cylinders, which might halt his recent consistency.
I think all of the matchups this weekend are pretty even. I would say that the Yankees have the edge in the Saturday game, but Colon is supposedly going to be held to 75-80 pitches and might not be fully comfortable in his first start back from the DL. But if he’s the Bartolo we have seen all year, then the Yankees have the edge. Other than that, these are probably three of the most even pitching matchups in recent years for the most intriguing Subway Series in recent years.
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What’s No. 6? Let Keefe know in the comments below…