By Joe Rini
September has finally arrived for New York’s local baseball teams. The arrival of Suspense is yet to be announced.
The fortunes of the 2018 Mets and Yankees have split like a fork in the road with the Yankees soaring and the Mets sinking, yet in some ways the last two months for each team have been as suspenseful as watching the Yule Long burn on Christmas Eve on channel 11.
It’s been clear since school ended in June that the Mets season would end with the final out of the regular season on September 30 and that the Yankees would be in the playoffs. However, while the Mets play out the string to Game 162, the Yankees will need to thread the needle to play deep into October as they will in all likelihood host the crapshoot otherwise known as the one game Wildcard playoff round.
Looking at the half full glass, the Yankees are still firmly ensconced in the first wildcard spot and 35 games over .500 entering play on Wednesday. Yet the starting staff lacks a big time stopper at the top of the rotation with Luis Severino battling fatigue and CC Sabathia dealing with knee pain and Father Time. The return of the injured Aaron Judge and closer Aroldis Chapman is still unknown but hope is the return of Gary Sanchez and acquisition of Andrew McCutchen will boost the offense.
Masahiro Tanaka has mostly pitched like an ace but if the Yankees get past the Wildcard game, manager Aaron Boone will most likely have to navigate pitching match-ups with his deep bullpen (though possibly without Chapman) if his mostly middle rotation staff only gets midway through each playoff game.
In contrast, the Mets starting staff has pitched well although Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, and Noah Syndergaard will be watching the playoffs again, thus upending the preseason prognostications that the Mets would go as far as their starting pitching would take them.
One area (besides geography) the two local teams have in common is the emergence of two late season/late blooming prospects. Since debuting with the Mets on July 24 after the trade of Asdrubal Cabrera, 26-year old second baseman Jeff McNeil is batting .318, has had two four hit games, and impressed the fans with his solid fundamental play (eg. advancing runners, choking up on the bat).
Meanwhile, the Yankees acquired 27-year old first baseman Luke Voit prior to the July 31 trade deadline from the Cardinals, and in his first 19 games as a Bomber has hit seven homeruns, producing a slash line of .327/. 385/.678 in pinstripes, and made up for the offensive shortfall by the often injured Greg Bird.
It remains to be seen whether McNeil and Voit will become fixtures in the lineup for years to come or this generation’s versions of flashes like Mike (23 game hitting streak in 1975) Vail and Shane (10 homers in September 2000) Spencer, but they’re contributing in a big way at the moment.
The Mets know their season will end on September 30 while the only guarantee for the Yankees (barring a late season “miracle” and passing the Red Sox) for finishing in second place with 100 wins will be the one game playoff. If they win it, they could go to the World Series. If not, the dreams of seeing Manny Machado and Bryce Harper in pinstripes start a month earlier than expected.