NEW YORK — Read the back pages of this city's tabloids, and you'd never know New York has two baseball teams headed for the playoffs.
One team makes the headlines every day. The other has been featured one time fewer than a football team that plays 200 miles northeast of here.
The New York Mets are the story, day after day, featured already on 10 New York Post back pages this month and 16 Daily News back pages in the last 26 days. The New York Yankees have been almost forgotten, with one back page in the Post (the New England Patriots had two) and one in the Daily News, until the Friday morning covers that featured both teams.
It's been all Mets, and if you listen to the talk on the streets and the noise coming from the stands, you get the same story. In the Subway Series of fan excitement, the Mets are far ahead.
There's an enthusiasm gap that's huge, even with a baseball gap that's not nearly that big.
New York is about to experience a regular-season Subway Series like none ever played—a September series that matters to both teams. The Mets are trying to clinch their first division title (and playoff appearance) since 2006. The Yankees trail the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East but could still win the division and should at least win a wild-card berth, for their first playoff appearance since 2012.
After two years with no October baseball, New York is looking at games on both sides of town.
Mets fans can't wait. Yankees fans seem bored.
Maybe that changes this weekend. Maybe the Yankees can change the story in the three games at Citi Field, or at least get their fans ready for a three-game series with the Blue Jays that begins Monday night at the Rogers Centre.
For now, New York belongs to the Mets as this Subway Series begins.
It's too bad in a way, not because there's anything wrong with Mets fans' excitement, but just because this weekend would be more exciting if both teams' fanbases were equally energized.
Still, there's plenty at stake for the Yankees, who need to keep close to the Blue Jays and keep the wild-card race from becoming close. There's plenty at stake for the Mets, who don't want to give the Nationals hope or remind their own fans of September collapses in 2007 and 2008.
The Yankees understand that the series in Toronto means more to their division title hopes than the one this weekend in Queens. The Mets understand that taking over the city in August or September isn't going to mean anything if the Yankees win in October and they don't.
Everyone understands that the only real way to make a regular-season Subway Series huge would be for Major League Baseball to adopt the type of regional realignment favored before by people like Buck Showalter and Jim Bowden. But baseball isn't ready to abandon the tradition of the two leagues, nor should it.
The Yankees and Mets will keep operating in different divisions and different environments, and weekends like this will remain rare. But they'll keep sharing the same city, and one team will always be compared to the other.
This weekend, the comparison will be up close.
The Yankees will open the series Friday night with their ace with elbow questions, although Masahiro Tanaka's recent performances haven't had people talking about Tommy John surgery. The Mets will close the series Sunday night with their ace with innings-limit questions, and Matt Harvey's performance will be closely watched to see how the Mets handle him and how he reacts.
The Mets will pitch Steven Matz on Friday and Noah Syndergaard on Saturday, beginning the series with two kids who have never faced the Yankees. The Yankees will pitch CC Sabathia on Sunday, closing the series with a pitcher who will face the Mets for the sixth time (only Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens have started more Subway Series games for the Yankees, and only Al Leiter has for the Mets).
The Mets will come in as the team that has scored the most runs in the major leagues since Aug. 1. The Yankees are the team that has scored the second-most runs in baseball for the season.
Both teams look great at the back end of the bullpen, with Jeurys Familia and Tyler Clippard for the Mets (although Clippard has had a few bad games lately) and Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances for the Yankees. Both teams have questions about middle relief.
There are interesting kids on both sides, from Matz and Syndergaard and outfielder Michael Conforto with the Mets to Luis Severino (who won't pitch in this series) and first baseman Greg Bird with the Yankees.
It should be interesting and it should be fun, and at some point during the weekend someone is sure to mention that the two teams could both end up in the World Series. If they do, the city will be up for grabs.
For now, it belongs to the Mets.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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