By Jason Keidel
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Yanks and Mets.
Mets or Yanks?
Who has the rougher road to October?
The Yankees have 28 home games left this season, while just 23 on the road. They have 26 games against teams with .500 records or better (13 at home, 13 on the road). They have 10 more games against the hard-charging Blue Jays, who just swept the Yanks out of the Bronx, including back-to-back shutouts, the first time the Bombers have been blanked in consecutive games since May, 1999.
The Yankees may not be worried, but they should be concerned. The Blue Jays gained much mojo, ample momentum, and have been scalding since acquiring Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, easily the best deadline deals in the league. They managed to infuse pop and power into their lineup and starting staff.
And for all the chafing and chiding when I declared the Mets would leapfrog the Yanks for first place in the five boroughs, both are in identical spots — in first place by 1 1/2 games.
The Mets bounced back Monday night, with some sublime pitching and clutch hitting — courtesy of the Rockies, who removed a pitcher that had choked the life out of the Mets in just 75 pitches, spawning an ornery monologue from Keith Hernandez.
Especially potent was my boy Jon Niese, who keeps posting robust starts and stats. You may recall this column begged the Mets to keep the understated, underrated southpaw. Niese has now allowed three runs or less in 11 of his last 12 starts.
The Mets have a softer schedule thank the Yanks. While they have more road (26) than home (24) games, only five contests away from Flushing are against clubs currently above .500. And they finish with three games, at home, against Washington. The Yankees end the 2015 regular season on the road against the scrappy Orioles, and against their former skipper, Buck Showalter.
And while the head-to-head games to cure their pennant fever sounds sexy enough, perhaps the sexiest series, for both teams, will come in Queens.
A series that not only summons provincial pride, but could also determine the October fates for both teams begins on Sept. 18, when the Yanks and Mets play each other.
Many pundits lamented our two locals squaring off so deep into the season, calling it bad form to have Interleague play in late September, when natural rivals should be dueling for division crowns.
But the three-game hiccup won’t disrupt the flow of pennant fever. If anything, those three games add gravitas to the rivalry, in every way. If we want the Subway Series to produce equal parts cash and cachet, you could not have slated a more poignant time and place than Citi Field in September. How can anyone gripe about games between first-place teams?
It’s pointless to project the starting pitchers five weeks in advance, but it’s likely both teams will sport a significant portion of their rotation. For entertainment purposes, if the projections hold, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom will start the second and third games of the series, with Niese opening the series.
The Mets not only need to sell out those games — which is quite likely considering their place in the standings and your hearts — but they also need their fans in the stands. If Citi Field is to be more than picturesque, exponentially prettier than the bank-vault motif of the new Yankee Stadium, they need throaty throngs in the seats. It can’t be a de facto home game for the Bombers.
For too long we’ve seen swaths of empty seats in Citi Field. And no one doubts the Mets earned the freckling of fans, most of whom were watching with one eye open over the last six years. But Sandy Alderson finally stepped up and put a playoff team on the diamond.
For years, Mets fans have asked for a reason to watch with earnest after the All-Star break. You’ve implored the employer to get you playoff-worthy employees. Now they have.
And it’s time to respond by squatting ringside, for the most important bout between our two baseball teams in many years.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel