By Jason Keidel
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As the baseball season commenced, many sportswriters, including yours truly, proclaimed that this town belonged to one team, the Mets.
And as I wrote, it would take an unlikely series of bounces for the Yankees to prosper and a serious number of blunders for the Mets to fail. In our typically cheeky way, we gave the Bombers a puncher’s chance, while essentially reserving the bold ink for the Amazins’.
Yet here we are, with about six weeks of baseball under our belts, and the Yankees are not only thriving, they’re dominating. And their recent sweep at Wrigley Field was particularly poignant. Not just because the Chicago Cubs are the best team in the sport, and defending World Series champions. And not just because the teams played in climes more befitting a Bears-Packers game. But the way the Yankees did it. With pitching. With clutch hitting. And with a biblical, 18-inning test of talent, temerity, and character.
That last game at Wrigley Field was the kind of game that teams recall in October. That’s when we knew we were special. Just as Doc Gooden’s no-hitter on almost the same date in 1996 was a stamp on a burgeoning World Series club, the Yanks may harken back to that frigid night at Wrigley and say it was emblematic of a champion.
The Yankees are exponentially better than expected in every aspect of the game, except the bullpen, which we knew would be nuclear from the jump. And the Bombers now not only sit atop the AL East, they’ve got the best record (21-9) in the sport, winning exactly 70 percent of their games so far.
On offense, the Yanks are third in batting average (.274), second in runs (177), third in homers (50), second in on-base percentage (.357), and third in slugging (.463). Their rankings are among all MLB clubs, not just the American League.
And while no one saw Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge morphing into Mantle and Maris so early this season, the fact that the Yanks can hit is not shocking. What is stunning is their pitching acumen. The Bombers are first in batting average against (.227), tied for second in walks (93), third in earned runs allowed (108), and fourth in ERA (3.52). Again, all rankings among all of MLB.
And here we are, with about a month and a half under our belts, and the Mets are a mess. The absolute inverse of the Yankees, the Mets (15-16) may be in second place in the NL East, but that’s only because of the dearth of decent clubs in the division.
Their best pitcher and position player, Noah Syndergaard, and Yoenis Cespedes, have joined the walking triage that has plagued the team. But there’s a resounding sense that at least Syndergaard could have been saved. Once he complained of stiffness and soreness, he should have been skipped at least a start. Now he’s on the disabled list with what doctors call a simple lat tear. Simple enough to keep him on the shelf for nearly three months.
No doubt the Mets have been ravaged by injuries, but they are also imploding from within. If the loss of their ace weren’t enough, their former ace is on the wrong side of the diamond ledger for entirely different reasons.
Matt Harvey, the self-styled Dark Knight of Gotham, who seemed to have the Big Apple in his considerable palms, was recently suspended for three games for some amorphous violation of team rules, dating to last season. These are the things that happen when a team loses players, chemistry, and leadership. The wave of good vibes the Mets rode to the 2015 World Series, has long since curled and rolled back into the ocean. That’s exactly where the Mets reside these days, the abyss, near the bottom of the baseball ocean, a place only whales and specially-contoured cubes can reach.
Shame on us and silly of me to assume the Mets would cash-in on their good moves and good fortune, and flip it into a world champion. That kind of thing is not in their DNA. Their impulse for implosion is too strong.
But the Yankees are used to, and groomed for, success. They expect it, and lean on their historical prerogative as the best team in the history of team sports. Your past matters. And in the case of the Yanks and Mets, it’s already deciding their immediate future.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel