Imagine a world in which the Mets are in first place, fueled by a power lineup and powerful arms, and the Yankees are struggling with an unreliable starting rotation and staring at playoff race irrelevance before Memorial Day.
In other words, imagine the world as most of us anticipated seven weeks ago, before up became down, in became out and Aaron Judge became Yoenis Cespedes.
Instead, for those oddballs among us without a passionate rooting interest in either team — journalists, fair-weather fans, supporters of teams without “NY” on their caps — this has been as fascinating as early season baseball gets.
That is a good thing, what with only one local winter sports team reaching the playoffs, for a relatively brief stay.
As we approach the home stretch of spring, the Yankees are a joy to behold, to the point last summer’s “Should they be sellers?” debate leading up to the trade deadline is back, only now focused on whether they should buy.
They are excelling as likable underdogs in a way rarely seen in franchise history, perhaps more so than any time since, um, 1919, when they finished third the year before Babe Ruth showed up?
For most of the ensuing century, their image could be summed up by what Gay Talese wrote in The New York Times in June of 1958, in an essay seeking to analyze their falling attendance the year the Dodgers and Giants left town:
“Wall Street bankers supposedly back the Yankees; Smith College girls approve of them; God, Brooks Brothers and United States Steel are believed to be solidly in the Yankees’ corner.”
Talese was identified in an accompanying note as an “ex-Yankee fan who became so bored with success that he now roots for the rest of the league.”
Yankees fans have had no such problem in 2017, not after having won just one World Series in the past 16 years (2009) and with few expectations entering this year beyond avoiding the indignity of a losing record and hoping Gary Sanchez was for real.
Can they maintain this pace? Probably not.
Then again, why not? Stranger things have happened, notably the apocalypse that has befallen the Mets, who never have been accused of being the favorite of Wall Street, Smith College, God, Brooks Brothers or U.S. Steel.
If this were late August and they were having a disappointing season amid injuries and sub-par performances, it would be dispiriting but digestible. Stuff happens, even to teams with sky-high expectations entering April.
What makes the Mets’ situation astounding, considering what they were supposed to be, is that it is May 18.
Being this bad this soon, with seemingly little hope of a turnaround in the near future, is among the swiftest New York sports flops in memory.
Even optimistic fans have mostly conceded the National League East to the Nationals, meaning that in a best-case scenario the Mets would be back in the wild-card game to face some other mediocre team’s ace.
The Mets would counter with . . . who knows?
Maybe Bartolo Colon will be available at the trade deadline. He also could help pick up the power-hitting slack if Cespedes’ hammy is not yet ready come early October.
So the 2017 narrative has been turned on its head, thus reverting to the historical norm: Yanks win, Mets explore new vistas of dysfunction, which oddly makes them that much more fascinating.
With all due respect and sympathy to suffering Mets fans, it’s been an interesting baseball ride so far. Only four-plus months to go!