Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

The Yankees are in first place, they lead the American League in average paid attendance and Alex Rodriguez is closing in on his 3,000th career hit. (Marketing opportunity alert!)

So what's not to like? Yet many television viewers still seem to be taking their time warming to the first team of the post-Derek Jeter era, now more than one-third of the way into the season.

Through Tuesday's game, YES Network was averaging 2.51 percent of New York-area homes for its Yankees telecasts, down 20 percent from last season at this time and 2 percent from 2013 -- a season that ended with YES' lowest ratings in a decade.

Why the slide? The Jeter Factor is an obvious starting point. He barely played in 2013 and ratings crumbled. His farewell tour in 2014 fueled a modest viewership revival.

Now he's gone for good, leaving a charisma-challenged roster that should have the Yankees and YES mighty grateful still to have A-Rod around.

But there are other potential factors, including competition from the Rangers' extended playoff run, which ate into early season baseball viewership.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Meanwhile, in Flushing . . .

Through Tuesday the Mets were averaging 2.27 percent of area homes on SNY, up about 19 percent from last season but still trailing the Yankees, as they have throughout this millennium.

The trick is sustaining that momentum. In recent years the Mets' ratings have sunk late along with their postseason prospects. For example: In 2014 the Yankees averaged a 2.99 on YES for the full season and the Mets a 1.63 on SNY.

All of the above ratings for both teams are way down from the 2000s when the Yankees still were a reliable playoff entry with plenty of star power and the Mets were contenders in each of SNY's first three seasons -- 2006, '07 and '08.

Speaking of 2006-08, I asked SNY play-by-play man Gary Cohen and WOR radio play-by-play man Howie Rose whether the job is more fun for them now that it appears the Mets will play meaningful games into late summer.

@Newsday

(This was Tuesday during a break in recording an upcoming SNY special, and thus before the Mets were no-hit one night and Matt Harvey was many-hit the next night.)

Cohen said he has enjoyed two developments in particular so far this season: The faster pace of games and the emergence of a strong slate of pitchers.

"Every time Harvey or deGrom or Syndergaard goes to the mound, even Colon, for that matter, who's become a kind of folk hero, there's something that's riveting about the game," Cohen said.

"It harkens back to Seaver, Koosman, Gentry, Ryan. Anybody who grew up a Mets fan in the era that Howie and I grew up in relishes that kind of baseball. It's what we were raised on."

Still, Cohen said, the standings make no difference in how he calls -- or enjoys calling -- games.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"There might be more people watching, more people investing in it, but the game is the same," he said. "There's only one game each day. Somebody wins and somebody loses. That is the case whether they are in first place or 40 games out of first place.

"What's exciting is if it's a close, well-played game; 12-1, no matter who wins, is not particularly fun to broadcast."

Rose had a different take, saying, "I do enjoy when there is an extra layer of significance to any given game than we might be used to . . . I know how devastating '07 and '08 were for Mets fans. Believe me, even for a broadcaster it was tough to watch what happened those last two weeks.

"But then you step back from it and realize that every single one of those 162 games meant something. So, yeah, for me it's a little more enjoyable to know that I can look at the scoreboard for a pretty good reason."

Both teams have about 100 games left. This should be interesting. Or so YES and SNY hope.