Mets' right fielder Starling Marte, first baseman Pete Alonso and...

Mets' right fielder Starling Marte, first baseman Pete Alonso and center fielder Brandon Nimmo celebrate their 8-5 victory against the San Diego Padres, Sunday, July 24, 2022, in New York.  Credit: AP/Julia Nikhinson

The Subway Series is always about the age-old power structure between the Yankees and Mets, regardless of the year or playoff positioning.

The pressure almost exclusively resides with the team from the Bronx, based on the 27 world championships and a century’s worth of success. The Yankees are supposed to beat the Mets. It’s the natural order of baseball life in the five boroughs. The big brother/little brother dynamic has been in effect since the birth of the Flushing expansion franchise in 1962.

But this week? There’s no debate when it comes to which team has more on the line when the Subway showdown kicks off Tuesday night at Citi Field. The stakes are much greater for the Mets, and the reason has very little to do with the Yankees.

Just look at the standings. The NL East-leading Mets own a two-game lead over Atlanta. Drop these two and they could wake up Thursday morning tied for first place (after holding a 10 1⁄2-game lead on June 1).

That’s a real, tangible penalty with a long-term impact. Forget bragging rights or rivalry ego-stroking. It’s not early anymore for the Mets, and Atlanta is much scarier than the memory of Luis Castillo’s dropped pop-up or Derek Jeter’s World Series momentum-shifting leadoff homer in Game 4 of the 2000 Fall Classic.

“This is going to be a great moment for New York,” Pete Alonso said. “Obviously you have a side you pick, but this is going to be a really fun time for the City of New York.”

Alonso’s not wrong. From a pure baseball standpoint, the Subway Series is unmatched, even without the longer history of the Dodgers and Giants, who lost the gritty passion of their origin stories by fleeing for the softer West Coast. But in a rivalry context, the Yankees aren’t faced with anywhere near the same urgency as their pals from the other side of the RFK Bridge.

Do they have issues? Sure. Getting swept by the Astros in a doubleheader out of the break wasn’t ideal. Losing Michael King over the weekend to a fractured elbow was a serious blow to the bullpen. Giancarlo Stanton lagging from “exhaustion” after his All-Star homecoming in L.A. could be something to keep an eye on.

The Yankees also head to Citi Field at a disadvantage in the pitching department, with Jordan Montgomery going up against Taijuan Walker (7-2, 2.55 ERA) in Tuesday’s opener and Domingo German making only his second start this season opposite three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. But Aaron Boone & Co. aren’t sweating their division, with a 12 1⁄2-game lead over the surging Blue Jays while the Rays and Red Sox have faded lately.

In the Subway Series, we don’t typically refer to the Yankees as the one playing with house money. But their next pressure game isn’t expected to be until October, and these two at Citi can’t put a significant dent in their 2022 goals. While securing home-field advantage over the Astros in the playoffs lurks in the background, as well as a run at the regular-season record for wins, these upcoming 48 hours in Flushing will provide a noisy amusement before going back to the usual 162-game business.

“There’s games, there’s series, there’s things that come up in the course of the year, especially in the long grind of it, I think that are little shot-in-the-arm series,” Boone said. “And I think any time you have that crosstown rivalry, those games, they add a little extra.”

A year ago, the Yankees were a desperate team when they hosted the first round of the Subway Series in the Bronx. They were flirting with .500, they had a double-digit deficit in the AL East and general manager Brian Cashman referred to his team as a “falling stone” in the week leading up to those games. That was pressure, but even after getting outscored by the Mets 18-8 in the first two losses, the Yankees won the back end of the July 4 doubleheader and rallied to save their season in the second half.

The Mets actually had a bigger lead (2 1⁄2 games) in the division at the time of that Subway Series. But after partying on the Yankees’ turf, the hangover was brutal — a dizzying nosedive during the next three months (33-48) that knocked them out of playoff contention.

We’ve learned to never say never with the Mets, but let’s go on the assumption that this is a much superior team and that a similar malaise is highly unlikely. Jacob deGrom (presumably) is right around the corner, and it’s anticipated that second-year owner Steve Cohen will give new GM Billy Eppler carte blanche to make the necessary upgrades (bullpen, another bat) by the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

In the meantime, the Mets need these games. Not to prove who’s King of New York or as a flex for their insecure fan base. To hold off Atlanta for another few days, with the true showdown looming later next month at Citi, when the defending world champs show up for a five-game visit (over four days).

And the Yankees? This Subway Series, they might actually enjoy the ride.

Mets vs. Yankees

Regular season 58-76

World Series 1-4

Spring training 36-50-1

Mayor's Trophy 8-10-1

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