Mets outfielders Tyler Naquin and Starling Marte high-five teammates following the...

Mets outfielders Tyler Naquin and Starling Marte high-five teammates following the Mets' 10-2 win over the Reds on Wednesday at Citi Field. Credit: AP/Julia Nikhinson

Before we get started, let’s get something out of the way first. The Yankees are going to win the AL East. That’s not up for debate.

The battle for New York?

Well, it’s becoming a much tighter race, especially after the Mets leapfrogged them this week by improving to 73-39, a full two games better than their Bronx buddies.

What’s that worth? Nothing in the standings, obviously. And there’s no ring for having a better record on Aug. 11.

But I can’t be the only one who did a double-take Sunday when the Mets, fresh off a statement four-of-five series W over Atlanta, pulled even with the Yankees for the first time since the opening week of this season.

Before the All-Star break, the possibility of Buck Showalter & Co. catching up to his former pinstriped team, in any capacity, felt remote. The Yankees got off to a historic start and the only competition left seemed to be chasing down the 1998 version of themselves, the team that won 114 games during the regular season before their 11-2 run to the World Series title.

The irony of that? It was the Mets who stole most of the winter headlines, with second-year owner Steve Cohen outspending old guard Hal Steinbrenner, and they even snatched Showalter, a longtime favorite of the Yankees’ fan base. But Cohen’s bold plan to steal the New York spotlight wound up with the Mets getting overshadowed anyway, as the Yankees sprinted to baseball’s best record and Aaron Judge launched his assault on Roger Maris’ single-season franchise home run mark.

Judge remains the story of this season. Not only is he putting together the greatest walk year baseball has ever witnessed, he’s a virtual lock for AL MVP on his current trajectory and is currently on pace to pass Maris’ legendary 61, which many would argue still stands as the legit, non-asterisk record. Regardless of what happens in Flushing, Judge’s performance transcends the New York City limits and his at-bats will continue to be must-see TV over these next seven weeks.

But the Yankees’ slippage of late, going 7-13 since the All-Star break and limping along on a 1-5 road trip that finishes at Fenway Park this weekend, has allowed the Mets to grab back some of the stage. Showalter’s crew is 15-4 over the same stretch in solidifying its hold on the NL East, growing the lead from a half-game on July 23 to seven games before getting Thursday off.

And nobody in baseball has been having more fun lately than the Mets. Edwin Diaz’s transformation from Flushing pariah to arguably MLB’s most dominant closer has made him a global phenomenon, thanks in part to his horns-blaring theme song — “Narco” by Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet — and a viral SNY video of Sunday’s entrance from the bullpen. Showalter later said he skipped a trip to the bathroom so he could watch the spectacle.

“I don’t care how you feel about all that stuff — that’s pretty good,” Showalter said.

Citi Field also had Sunday’s return of Jacob deGrom, who struck out 12 over 5 2/3 innings in his Flushing debut (after a 396-day absence), and features a new cult hero in slugger Daniel Vogelbach, who is quickly making GM Billy Eppler look like a genius for the deadline pickup. Vogelbach is hitting .341(15-for-44) with four doubles, two homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.041 OPS in 15 games, and brought the house down Wednesday by using “Milkshake” by Kelis for his walk-up song in the Mets’ sixth straight win.

“All the boys wanted me to do it,” Vogelbach told Newsday’s Tim Healey. “The boys want, the boys get. I did it for them.”

Compare that with the flailing Yankees speaking through clenched teeth on this current road trip from hell. Fortunately for them, the Blue Jays (10 games back) haven’t taken advantage of this recent slide, so most of the damage done has involved cracks in what used to be their near-invincible perception. Missing out on Luis Castillo at the trade deadline to settle for Frankie Montas was not ideal, and the newly acquired Andrew Benintendi imitating the jettisoned Joey Gallo — only with fewer Ks — isn’t how GM Brian Cashman drew this up.

The free-falling Red Sox should be the perfect remedy, unless Fenway can ignite whatever smoldering embers are left of the ancient rivalry this season. Don’t bet on that happening. But Aaron Boone & Co. have to put the brakes on this skid pronto. It’s not at Panic City levels — to borrow a phrase from a former Mets GM — but the Yankees’ pursuit of history this season has given way to thinking more about survival at the moment, especially after failing to score for 19 2/3 innings during that Seattle series.

“We’ve got to turn it around here,” Boone said after his bullpen got beat in Wednesday’s series-ending loss to the Mariners. “It’s been a tough week for us.”

The Mets swept the first two games of the Subway Series last month at Citi Field. The rematch takes place Aug. 22-23 in the Bronx, but the Yankees have plenty of work to do before then — and in the grand scheme, taking back New York could be their toughest challenge yet.

The Mets lost their first two games after the All-Star break but have gone 15-2 since. The Yankees, meanwhile, have struggled to a 7-13 mark over the same stretch — allowing the Mets to surpass them with a better overall record. Here is a look at where they stood in a variety of second-half stats:


Mets                                           Category                                   Yankees 


.299 (1st in majors)                    Bat. avg.                                    .238 (21st) 

.370 (1st)                                   OBP                                           .325 (9th) 

.483 (3rd)                                   Slug. pct.                                   .431 (8th) 

23 (10th, tie)                              HRs                                            33 (1st) 


3.18 (3rd)                                   ERA                                            4.36 (24th) 

1.18 (6th)                                   WHIP                                          1.27 (17th) 

.238 (10th)                                 Opp. BA                                     .237 (9th) 

3.85 (3rd)                                   K/BB                                           2.68 (20th) 

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