Take a quick glance at the two Subway Series lineups for Friday’s opener at Citi Field. Pick out who’s having an average year.
It’s a short list.
And for what might qualify as an indisputably good season?
You can narrow that down to two. Aaron Judge for the Yankees, Pete Alonso for the Mets.
That explains a lot. No wonder the Yankees have been one of the worst — no, the worst — offensive teams in the majors during the 2-10 slide that followed their 13-game winning streak. As for the Mets, it’s not so much an overall breakdown as a situational malfunction, with too many parts misfiring at the wrong times as their last seven losses have each been by one run, a franchise record.
Now approaching mid-September, we’re past the point of meaningful shakeups. Both managers are exhausted by the same line of questioning for the past few weeks. It’s a sprint for survival at this stage, a short part of the schedule when one star can possibly carry a team to the finish.
That’s where Judge and Alonso come in.
On Friday night, with no DH at Citi Field, Judge didn’t have the usual muscle around him. That left Luke Voit anchored on the bench and manager Aaron Boone chose to sit Giancarlo Stanton with the intention of using him in the outfield for the back two games of the series.
Given the Yankees’ recent tailspin, and their wild-card lead eroding, it’s now or never. Consider Judge to be the right man for the job, and the Subway Series the perfect stage. He matched a season high with three hits in Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays, and has a slash line of .379/.406/.591 over his previous 16 games, with five doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs.
Judge even took it upon himself to address the team Thursday after the Yankees never led during the Jays’ four-game sweep. There’s not much else he can do, but smacking the ball around Citi Field for a few days would be a huge help.
"It’s time to roll," said Judge, who’s hitting a team-best .294 with 30 homers. "We know what we’re capable of and I’ve got a lot of confidence in every single guy in that room. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guys on the bench, guys in the bullpen or the starters, this is a very capable group.
"We’ve just got to go back to playing our ball, having fun, and things are going to go our way. It’s baseball — it sucks at times. That’s the crazy game we play. But we’ve just got to keep posting every day, show up and do some work."
Alonso finds himself in a similar position on the Mets, but they’re facing a greater uphill struggle. Heading into the Subway Series, the Mets trailed the first-place Braves by five games with only 21 games left. Their margin for error has evaporated, and the Mets’ remaining schedule, starting with the Yankees, is a step up in weight class from the NL East bottom dwellers they just went 4-4 against in D.C. and Miami.
Like Judge, Alonso enjoys the NYC spotlight, and he came out before Friday’s game in shorts and slides to accept a pair of custom-made 9/11 cleats for this weekend’s 20th anniversary game. The Mets are going to need him to fill those shoes like only a slugger of his pedigree can, and he’s coming off a week that should have prepped him for the task.
Alonso became the second-fastest player to reach 100 home runs when he crushed a pair of them Tuesday at Marlins Park, giving him 101 in 349 career games; only Ryan Howard had more (111) over that many games to open a career. Entering Friday, Alonso led the Mets with 32 homers, a .269 batting average and .874 OPS. Not to mention he’s played in the most games, at 131.
But Alonso has described himself as the best power hitter on the planet for a reason. He takes pride in pulverizing the baseball, and making history this week could be sort of a springboard.
"To be able to get to those numbers as quickly as I did, it’s truly a blessing," Alonso said Tuesday night. "But also there’s a lot of hard work that’s been put in basically throughout my entire life . . . Hopefully, I can get to two, three, four, five, six hundred more."
The Mets could use a couple in this Subway Series, as Alonso goes biceps to biceps with Judge, with a season potentially hanging in the balance.