The Yankees boast the best record in the sport, have hit the most home runs and also should be well-rested when they arrive this weekend at Citi Field, considering this is a road trip in which they don’t require a plane.
So remind us again why this Subway Series is supposed to be a good thing for the Mets?
“It’s going to be energized,” said Todd Frazier, who wore pinstripes across town last season. “It’s going to be a packed house. It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere. One big hit here in that series, all of a sudden we’re back to where we need to be.”
Ah, yes. The one big hit. Not so easy to find these days in Queens. You’d have a better chance of stumbling across a polar bear on Roosevelt Avenue than seeing a timely run-scoring knock. But maybe that’s what makes the Mets dangerous over this three-game series.
That smell coming off Flushing Bay isn’t low tide. It’s the air of desperation, which hangs thick right now at Citi Field for a nosediving group that averaged 1.07 runs per nine innings during this six-game losing streak. During the two losses to the Orioles — the worst team in baseball — the Mets amassed a total of one run.
In our estimation, it’s still too early to be calling this a last stand for Mickey Callaway and Co., but we’re creeping closer to the cliff. The drumbeat to trade either Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard is only going to get louder if the losing continues, and the Mets already are 7 1/2 games out, with three teams ahead of them in the NL East.
We just have a hard time accepting that a visit by the Yankees is going to cure everything that has gone wrong for the Mets to this point. Or that a sold-out, boisterous Citi Field — especially if a large percentage of the seats are occupied by Yankee fans — will magically stir some dormant abilities inside the Mets’ aging roster.
It’s not impossible, though. If an otherwise forgotten Met like Dave Mlicki can throw a Bronx shutout in the first regular-season Subway Series game more than two decades ago, then who can say what lies beyond the boundaries of reason? The Mets’ .688 OPS ranks 26th in the majors — the Yankees are No. 1 at .803 — but can a handful of big hits eventually show up, if only for three days, to change the course of a season?
When asked for a reason to have faith in a Mets’ turnaround, Callaway replied, “The Law of Averages.” But this is also a manager who declared rock bottom had been reached — only to have his team still in a free-fall a week later. It’s fitting that the former Indians pitching coach must look to the Mets’ rotation for his salvation, and their 2.36 ERA over the past 18 games suggests that the revival is legit and potentially long-lasting.
Starting deGrom — who goes in Friday’s opener vs. Masahiro Tanaka — is a decided edge over nearly anyone not named Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander or Luis Severino. Steven Matz will have his hands full Saturday when the Yankees deploy their righty-heavy, lefty-bashing lineup to support Domingo German and Syndergaard is coming off a DL stint for Sunday’s prime-time showdown with Severino.
As we’ve learned in recent weeks, however, holding other teams down hasn’t been the Mets’ problem. And with Yoenis Cespedes (hip flexor strain) not expected back for this series, how can they muster enough offense to hang with the game’s most powerful lineup? The Yankees already have five players with 10 or more home runs, including the precocious rookie Gleyber Torres, who has hit 10 in only 39 games. For the Mets, only Asdrubal Cabrera has reached double digits, and two of his 10 came on the day he last went deep — back on May 29. Cespedes is second on the Mets with eight homers, and he’s played in only 37 of their 59 games, having been on the DL since May 14.
If Frazier is to be believed, then perhaps the additional adrenaline of the Subway Series can work to the Mets’ advantage. But we can’t simply remove the Yankees from that equation, either. They’ll get a bump from the extra voltage, too, and the difference is they haven’t needed it to stay on pace with the Red Sox in battling for MLB’s top spot.
For the Yankees, as in most of their seasons, traveling across the RFK Bridge seems like another business trip, with the greater goal of a World Series in mind. That it’s the Mets standing in their way this weekend, accompanied by all the extra hype, there’s always a risk of being derailed from what has become the Yankees’ winning routine.
“You understand that it matters,” said Aaron Boone, who will participate in his first Subway Series. “I think it adds to the excitement of the season.”
For the Mets, it undeniably matters a whole lot more.