Memo to Major League Baseball: Next season, if you want to put the Yankees-Mets series center stage, don’t schedule the games immediately after the Yankees play the Red Sox and the Mets play the Phillies. No Yankees-Mets series could ever be meaningless, but the one that starts tonight comes as close to feeling anticlimactic as any series played in mid-June.
The Mets are in worse shape than the Yankees, but ought to feel better about themselves, having won at least one game against their main rivals even with a depleted lineup. At 31-27, they’re four games behind the Phillies, but many of those games have been played without their best (or at least most exciting) player, Jose Reyes, who has appeared in just 36 games, and without Carlos Delgado, who’s played in just 26. (Yesterday’s injury report says he’s “riding an exercise bike but won’t be swinging a bat for at least another three weeks.”) Without these two in the batting order, the Mets aren’t exactly punchless, but they’re wearing 12-ounce gloves.
A little more than a third of the season may not be adequate for a precise sampling, but Citi Field might have completely done a jiu-jitsu on traditional analysis of the Mets.
When they played their home games in Shea, they were performing in one of the two best pitchers’ parks in MLB (the other being Dodger Stadium). The Mets sometimes had one of the best hitting teams in the league, but you didn’t know it until you looked at their road numbers. Now, all that has turned around. At Citi Field, where they’re 18-11, they’ve hit .285 with 21 home runs for a slugging average of .428. In all other National League parks, they’re only 13-16 with 16 home runs. a .272 BA. and a .390 SA. Their power numbers aren’t great at home, but they’re positively anemic on the road, and the road numbers are usually the best gauge of a team’s hitting ability.
The bad news for Mets fans is that the team has just two power sources, though they are outstanding. Carlos Beltran is hitting .341 with eight home runs and a .561 slugging percentage, and David Wright goes into the Yankees series at .362 with four home runs and .528 slugging. In truth, Wright has been a puzzle: He may wind up with the highest single-season batting average in team history, but his four home runs are about half of what he should have hit at this point.
And here’s the real bad news: All Mets not named Wright or Beltran are batting just .259 with 25 home runs.
The Yankees, too, have a batting order that appears more potent than it is because of their new home park. Though their batting average is actually slightly better on the road (.279 to .270 at the new park), their power is much greater at home (57-38 and a slugging average of .497 at home, to .460 away). The Yankee hitters are well suited to this ballpark, and it shows: they’re 18-11 at home, just like the Mets at Citifield, and a mediocre 16-15 in other AL ballparks.
So, designated hitter or not, the Yankees are a much better hitting team than the Mets, even though the Mets are out-hitting them by three points, .278 to .275. The difference is power. Speed, too: The Yanks have stolen 42 bases in 51 tries for an excellent success rate of 82.4 percent while the Mets are 60-19—but without Reyes, who has stolen 11 of 13 so far, they are 49-17, for 74.2 precent.
But the real difference between the Mets and the Yankees isn’t power; it’s that the Mets have aces in both the starting rotation and the bullpen and the Yankees don’t. It would be hard to overestimate Johan Santana’s value to the Mets. Take away his 8-3 record and the rest of the staff is 23-24. If you take him out of the rotation and replace him with the average NL starter, the Mets would be out of the pennant race. Johan’s 79 innings pitched are 15.2 percent of the entire staff’s total, and his 91 strikeouts represent 23 percent.
With J. J. Putz now on the DL, Francisco Rodriguez has all 16 saves chalked up by the bullpen that will be facing the Yankees this weekend. It’s a sobering thought that both Santana and Rodriguez were free-agent acquisitions. Within their own organization, the Mets have been virtually unable to produce a single first-rate pitcher, either starter or reliever.
How good are Santana and K-Rod? With them, the Mets go into tonight’s game with the seventh best overall ERA in MLB. Without them, they’d probably be as bad as the Yankees.
During the offseason, the Yankees spent the GNP of a Central American nation to improve their pitching staff, and as they go into the first Subway Series, it’s substantially worse than it was last year.
The Yanks are 27th in the major leagues in ERA at 4.85 (they finished 2008 at 4.28). Much has been made of a couple of disastrous relief efforts from Mariano Rivera. What’s been overlooked is that even if Mo had been at the top of his form, the Yanks would have a lousy bullpen. After 58 games, the relievers have an ERA of 4.69, 25th overall and well behind the Red Sox (first at 2.88), the Mets (second at 2.98), the Tampa Bay Bucs (10th, 3.84), the Kansas City Royals (21st at 4.44) and even the Baltimore Orioles (24th, 4.67). The bullpen has been the plague of the Yankees in this decade; the inability of the Steinbrenners’ farm system to produce even a couple of competent relievers is essentially what cost Joe Torre his job, and it will probably be what costs Joe Girardi his.
As for the starters, no matter how you look at it, C. C. Sabathia has been a disappointment, just 5-4 so far with an ERA of 3.68 and only 67 strikeouts in 93 innings. You assume he’ll do better as the season goes on, but A. J. Burnett (4-3 with an ERA of 4.89) probably will not. If he pitches well tonight, Joba Chamberlain (3-1 with 55 strikeouts in 59.1 innings) could emerge as the ace of the staff. With Chien-Ming Wang bafflingly ineffective, Andy Pettitte just a shade below mediocre (despite his 6-2 W-L record, he’s given up 82 hits in 74.2 innings), and Phil Hughes erratic despite flashes of brilliance, there doesn’t seem to be any other potential big-gamers on the roster.
Essentially the Yankees’ season should come down to this: Either Wang will recover or Hughes will become the star the Yankees thought he would be three years ago. If neither happens, the Yanks have no chance to overtake the Red Sox.
No one playing ball in New York wants to lose a Yankee-Mets series, but this weekend, all the players with NY on their caps may be a little distracted. Some of their attention may be directed to the scoreboard and the games at Citizens Bank Park, where the Red Sox are playing the Phillies.