By Ernie Palladino
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The end of August has brought the Mets and Yankees to two distinct mindsets, and one might well wonder if the Bombers are just a little bit envious of their crosstown counterparts right now.
We’re talking about pressure here. The Yanks may sit in first place heading into Friday’s series opener against second-place Baltimore, but that 3-game gap between them has all sorts of pressure attached to it.
Not that Joe Girardi’s group would rather be someplace else, but talking about the Yanks as division winners today bears the same credibility as those speakers at the Republican National Convention who scream that they’ve got the answers to our economic dilemma, or that they’re just nicer guys than those big-government meanies across the aisle.
The way Baltimore is playing and winning, the way the Yanks just lost a series to last-place Toronto, and the ever-growing list of pinstriped injuries just makes you think this is not a World Series team, and maybe not even an ALDS survivor.
That’s not to say the Yanks’ lead is a lie. They legitimately earned that cushion with their power show of the first half. What cuts into the credibility is the injury situation. Bad enough to lose Alex Rodriguez. Now, Mark Teixeira is gone, probably for another week or more with a strained calf.
Even for a team like the Yanks, that’s a lot of power to take out of a lineup. Obviously, they’re not getting on well without them.
Andy Pettitte is still pitching off flat ground, and he recently said he’ll need at least two starts to be ready for the postseason. The longer his situation goes on, the less likely the Yanks are to have him at all in the regular season.
And the defense has gone downhill lately.
So the noose tightens. No matter how much experience a team has in genuine pennant races, and the Yanks have plenty, it’s not a pleasant feeling.
Their 3-2 loss in Philadelphia Thursday snapped a four-game winning streak. In order to get back in their pennant race, they’d have to mount an otherworldly September charge, and we all know that’s not going to happen.
But they’re not feeling pressure, either. They have the “luxury” of keeping good-looking Matt Harvey on an innings count, and he remains on track to be shut down before year’s end. Discuss the merits and drawbacks of babying young pitchers like that — the Joba Rules did Joba Chamberlain no favors, and they probably won’t do Harvey any, either — as you will. But the fact is, the Mets’ situation has given them the leeway to handle the 23-year-old.
They were also able to play new right-handed hitting catcher Kelly Shoppach in the win in Philadelphia Wednesday, despite the fact that lefty-hitting Josh Thole would have matched up better against right-hander Tyler Cloyd. And don’t be surprised if it happens again as manager Terry Collins tries to see how, or if, Shoppach fits into next season’s plans.
Also, a bullpen that still ranks 30th in the league has put up 16 1/3 scoreless innings over the last seven games.
Generally, they’re playing loose. No doubt that’s a function of having no loftier goals left than finishing smack in the middle of the NL East.
There is no pressure in abject mediocrity.
Would the Yanks trade places? Heck, no. Who wants comfort when there’s a postseason spot for the taking.
The question is whether the Yanks have the manpower anymore to stand up to the heat of a real pennant race. The way their health has gone, one wonders who will go down next? Will the fates take away a Derek Jeter or Curtis Granderson once Teixeira returns? And how will that further affect a division leader whose postseason potential is fading quickly.
No, they wouldn’t trade places with the Mets. Not for all the money in the world.
But the Yanks would sure like to put together a little winning streak as the Mets just did.
Like, starting Friday.
Here we go, baseball fans — the home stretch. Will the Yankees hang on? Be heard in the comments below!