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Buying or Selling the Mets as NYC's Best World Series Threat over Struggling Yankees

Abbey MastraccoAugust 23, 2022

Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Though New York's two baseball teams play in the largest media market in the country and have often had payrolls to match, they have historically occupied two very different roles within the city: big brother and little brother.

Yankees fans relish the role or are apathetic toward Mets fans. Why should they care about the Mets when the team they root for has won 27 World Series championships?

Mets fans despise the designation.

While you have to admire the Flushing faithful's level of loyalty, the monikers are probably an accurate description of the dynamic between the two teams and their fanbases. Even when the Mets went to the World Series in 2015, they were unable to change that narrative. A couple of years later, Noah Syndergaard declared New York a Mets town. The team hasn't made the playoffs since.

If ever there were a year to flip the script, it's this one. The Mets are all but assured to make the playoffs, and, heading into the final game of the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, they hold a three-game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

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Meanwhile, the Yankees have struggled in the second half, though they did get to Max Scherzer in a 4-2 victory Monday night. Despite splashy trades for left fielder Andrew Benintendi, relievers Scott Effross and Lou Trivino and right-handed starter Frankie Montas, their lead in the American League East has dwindled from 15.5 games July 8 to eight games.

What kind of world are we living in when the Mets are quite possibly the least-chaotic team on the East Coast and the Yankees are drastically underperforming? Up is down, down is up and the little brother has suddenly grown up.

With Montas set to face Taijuan Walker, let's look at how each team got here and which one has a better chance to reach the World Series.


An Amazin'ly Good Season

It used to feel like the Mets couldn't get anything right. Even when they tried, something always went spectacularly wrong. And it certainly appeared as though that trend would continue when the club started the season without Jacob deGrom and Scherzer suffered a strained left oblique in late May.

But the Mets have the second-best record in the majors behind the Los Angeles Dodgers—the team that owner Steve Cohen has said he would like to emulate. Scherzer and deGrom have been dominant, though it is concerning that deGrom's Tuesday start was pushed back. Still, the Mets have one of the best one-two-three punches in the NL with those two and Chris Bassitt.

There are no power rankings for closers' entrance songs, but if there were, Edwin Díaz might top that list. Officially, the song is called "Narco" by Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet, but it's informally referred to as "the trumpet song" around Queens. Clearly, it's working for Díaz, who has converted 28 saves in 31 opportunities and is just one save behind MLB leaders Josh Hader, Taylor Rogers and Kenley Jansen.

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Shortstop Francisco Lindor had a rough start with New York but now looks more like the player he was for the Cleveland Guardians. He ranks in the top five overall and has the third-best fWAR since the All-Star break with a .350 average and five home runs. Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso can't stop hitting as well.

But the biggest change for the Mets has come off the field. A year ago, Cohen discovered just how challenging it is to change a culture. The overhaul started when he bought the team in 2020, but we're finally seeing the results of management and coaching changes.

Buck Showalter has been the adult in the room the Mets have badly needed. People in the organization have said Showalter has instilled accountability. Players understand and respect this and respect his authority. Showalter provides the voice that goes from the clubhouse to the front office and from the clubhouse to the fans. A singular representative means the messages are no longer muddled.

The Mets have also gained leadership from Scherzer. The 2019 World Series winner brings invaluable experience. In recent seasons, the Mets had a lot of dominant personalities but were devoid of a clubhouse leader. It showed in the way factions divided the team.

Now, Scherzer commands the respect of the whole group.

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Of course, there have been downs this season as well. The defense has been fine, but it's not a strength. Catcher James McCann has been injured and ineffective at the plate. Starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco is on the injured list. The bullpen is down a key reliever in Drew Smith. And the infield is without two third basemen with utility man Luis Guillorme and Eduardo Escobar on the IL.

However, their injuries paved the way for third base prospect Brett Baty to be called up, and he homered in his first at-bat. The bullpen, which has been short on quality left-handers, got a boost from one who worked at a bank in Omaha, Nebraska, a year ago. Nate Fisher helped the Mets with three scoreless innings in their 10-9 comeback win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.

How long can this period of prosperity last? Well, it's possible it lasts through the regular season considering the Mets have the second-easiest remaining schedule. The lack of playoff experience for some of this team is concerning, but if they look to leaders such as Scherzer, they should be able to stay the course.


Free-Falling

Lindor's fWAR is nice and all, but Aaron Judge has been the best player in baseball all season. The Yankees have the best defense, which is in stark contrast to last season, when the objective was to hit their way past mistakes. But they can still hit too, and the lineup will get a boost when Giancarlo Stanton returns from left Achilles tendinitis, perhaps Thursday.

They also have a passionate, respected manager in Aaron Boone. But Boone needs to do something to right the ship because it's been sinking in August.

The bullpen, once the strength of the team, has taken a few hits lately with Effross and Albert Abreu landing on the IL. The rotation doesn't look as strong as it once did without Luis Severino, who remains on the 60-day injured list with a strained right lat, and the Jordan Montgomery trade remains befuddling. Harrison Bader, the center fielder for whom Montgomery was traded, remains sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

Meanwhile, Montgomery tossed a complete-game one-hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Chicago Cubs on Monday night. Ouch.

Gerrit Cole is still a bona fide ace and the type of pitcher who can fire up a team every five days. But he shouldn't have to shoulder that load on a team full of All-Stars.

Judge might be the AL MVP front-runner, but he hasn't been getting a ton of help as of late, and teams are pitching around him. The offense has been lifeless in August with a .648 OPS, the seventh-worst mark in the majors.

However, there have been signs of life. The Yankees scored eight runs over their last two games, and Judge hit his MLB-best 47th homer Monday. Maybe Scherzer should have tried pitching around him.

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The Bronx Bombers had a 3.08 ERA before the All-Star break, and it's 4.10 in the second half. Fans booed managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and longtime general manager Brian Cashman when they were on the field for Paul O'Neill's number retirement ceremony Sunday. The Yanks are 11-20 in the second half and just 6-14 in August.

It's not uncommon for teams to slump in the summer, but it is shocking for a team that was on pace for 122 wins earlier this season. If you're looking for something positive, it's worth noting that the 2017 Dodgers went 1-16 in late August and the first part of September and still reached the World Series. The 2000 Yankees finished with a 3-15 skid only to reach the World Series and defeat...well, the Mets.


Time to Buy the Mets

It's entirely possible that we are headed toward another postseason Subway Series. The role reversal isn't yet complete with both teams leading their respective divisions and the Mets still behind by a whopping 25 championships, but this baseball-mad city is the center of the MLB universe right now.

And if you ask me which one of these teams has the best chance to make it to the end, I will go with the hot hand and say the Mets. No, it's not because the Yankees are slumping, and, yes, much of it depends on the health of deGrom. It's because the club is doing the right things and has installed the right systems and personnel.

This might be the year it all pays off.

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