Subway Series set to be serious mismatch
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Get ready for one of the bigger mismatches in the history of this interborough showdown, even with the Yankees carrying 12 players on the disabled list, including high-wattage stars such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
Mercifully, from the Mets' point of view, it will be over quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid, because this year's Subway Series is only four games, a home-and-home battle with two each at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, running consecutively.
Catcher: Chris Stewart vs. John Buck
What's harder to believe? Stewart holding down the starting job for the first-place Yankees or Buck slugging like Mike Piazza in April? Stewart's groin injury opened up some playing time for Austin Romine and Buck was hitting .169 (10-for-59) with 22 strikeouts since May 3. Turns out neither one was believable.
First base: Lyle Overbay vs. Ike Davis
Signing Overbay was like an episode of Storage Wars for Brian Cashman, who wound up with a vintage Mustang instead of a rusty Schwinn and will be faced with a tough roster decision upon Mark Teixeira's return. Davis has done everything but buy his own ticket to Las Vegas, and the only reason he's still here is the Mets feel even worse about his replacements.
Second base: Robinson Cano vs. Daniel Murphy
Not in the same league. Sort of like Cano's agent, Jay-Z, and Vanilla Ice. Cano is on track for a record extension from the Yankees, propping up their replacement-filled lineup despite hitting in the No. 2 spot. The streaky Murphy is hot coming in -- a .458 clip over the last dozen games -- but hits much better on the road (.386) than at Citi (.247).
Shortstop: Jayson Nix/Reid Brignac vs. Ruben Tejada
Despite the benefit of a platoon option, these two players don't add up to a fraction of Derek Jeter. The sturdy Nix puts in a professional effort, and is more reliable defensively than the DL'ed Eduardo Nuñez. As for Tejada, he's been trending in the wrong direction -- going backward since taking over for Jose Reyes.
Adams was cut loose in spring training as a roster casualty, but Cashman got lucky in signing him back, and now he's proving to be much more than just the injured guy who once scuttled the Cliff Lee deal. Wright has been unfazed by the added pressure of his new $138-million contract and has responded with another MVP-type start.
Leftfield: Vernon Wells vs. Lucas Duda
Wells would have been a nice addition to the Flushing outfield if the Mets had the money to make it happen this winter. Instead, he has rejuvenated his career in the Bronx, with an early .823 OPS that's almost 200 points higher than last year. Duda's best attribute is taking pitches and drawing walks, but has power when he chooses to swing and make contact. That doesn't happen enough.
Centerfield: Brett Gardner vs. Rick Ankiel
Gardner has rebounded from a lost 2012 season to take Curtis Granderson's position and do an adequate impression of a leadoff hitter. He's halfway to a career high in homers with four in just 47 games. Ankiel was all but finished after getting cut by the dismal Astros. Once his glove and bat arrived in the mail, Ankiel has been an improvement over the Mets' grab bag of minor-leaguers.
Rightfield: Ichiro Suzuki vs. Marlon Byrd
The Yankees were looking at the uncomfortable possibility of benching Ichiro before Granderson broke his finger. He's done little else but play good defense, which is not worth his two-year, $13-million extension. Byrd has provided some pop, and heated up (.302) in May, but how long will it last?
Travis Hafner, the Yankees' pure DH, will be limited to pinch-hitting duty for the Citi games, so that removes a big weapon from the lineup for half the series. But he will still will be a huge late-game factor. The Mets have no comparison to Hafner, but the volatile Jordany Valdespin has shown a flair for the dramatic.
Joe Girardi has coaxed max effort from a rotating roster that has put 14 players on the DL already this season -- including Granderson twice. He's used 36 players overall to keep the Yankees in first place. Terry Collins hasn't been given much talent to work with, but that won't stop the Mets from making him the fall guy for this mess.
Starting pitchers: Phil Hughes vs. Jonathon Niese, Hiroki Kuroda vs. Matt Harvey, David Phelps vs. Jeremy Hefner, Vidal Nuño vs. Dillon Gee.
The Yankees have shuffled their rotation to have CC Sabathia face the Red Sox, which makes Tuesday's Kuroda-Harvey clash the highlight here. Harvey is the city's most intimidating pitcher at the moment, but the rest of these head-to-heads don't have much juice.
Mariano Rivera, at age 43 coming off knee surgery, apparently has saved his best for last. David Robertson, Boone Logan and Shawn Kelley -- whose 15.10 K/9 ratio is third in the AL -- are a formidable lead-in to Mo. Bobby Parnell finally is growing into the closer's role for the Mets, but their 4.85 bullpen ERA ranks 28th overall.
Five story lines to watch
1. Harvey's first ride. The Mets aren't going to the playoffs, so facing the Yankees in the Subway Series will be as good as it gets for Matt Harvey, who was promoted after last year's showdown. He'll also have the Citi crowd in his corner, so it could be the highlight of the season for the Mets.
2. Where have you gone, Roger Clemens? With both teams lacking any real instigators, this series could be a little flat in the energy department. A-Rod won't be around to fire up the Flushing crowd and it's not like David Wright, the Mets' brightest star, is despised in the Bronx.
3. Man on fire. Terry Collins has shown incredible restraint during the Mets' miserable start. But the heat will be turned up over the next four days, and if his team is embarrassed, it might be difficult for the emotional Collins to stay cool.
4. Exit Sandman. The Mets will honor Mariano Rivera on Tuesday night, but it's not likely to be the closer's last at Citi Field with the All-Star Game coming up in July. Rivera got the pitching rubber from Shea after earning his 500th save on it in 2009. What will the Mets give him as a farewell gift?
5. The Davis dilemma. Should the Mets decide to keep Ike Davis around for the Subway Series, it will be compelling to see if he can rise from the ashes under this white-hot spotlight. He'll surely be booed less in the Bronx than at Citi Field.