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Series Preview: New York Yankees vs. New York Mets

The stakes of this series haven't been higher since the year 2000.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

When we first saw that the Mets and Yankees would be meeting at the end of the season this year in a special September version of the Subway Series, we knew there was a chance that the script wouldn't work out perfectly. Maybe the Mets would be too far behind the Nationals and whatever team was leading the wild card by now and fans wouldn't be so invested. Maybe even the scenario would be the other way around and it would be the Yankees suffering through a sub-par season.

Either way, the risk that the schedule makers took has paid off, as both the Mets and Yankees have three meaningful games sitting in front of them at the start of this weekend's series. The Bronx Bombers now find themselves five-and-a-half games in front of the Twins in the wild card race thanks to Minnesota's 11-8 loss to the Angels last night, but the Yankees would love to catch the Blue Jays for division supremacy. Toronto has seemed destined to win the AL East since late July, but is just three losses ahead of New York in the standings.

In Queens, the Mets caught a break when Miami put a stop to Washington's four-game win streak, but there's still plenty of business that needs taking care of. If the Nationals win the rest of their games leading up to their season-ending series with the Mets, (however unlikely that is), then New York must win nine of its next 13 games to put the Nats away before Washington has a chance to control its own destiny.

So even though the Mets have a shockingly comfortable lead in the NL East, this series with the Yankees is still vitally important. If not for the Mets' chances, then at least for the sanity of their fans.

These old guys can still hit

One of the reasons why so many critics were out on the Yankees this winter was the team's aging lineup. Sure, manager Joe Girardi gets to write in a lot of big names every day, but there were a lot of questions about how much those names could still produce.

Just look at Mark Teixeira. Last year he hit just .216/.313/.398 and was merely an average offensive player at first base, where the Yankees are used to getting terrific production. In 2015, he's turned it all around with a lower strikeout rate and a 100-point boost in isolated power. With 31 home runs and nearly three WAR, Teixeira was a big part of the Yankees' success... until he broke his leg in late August.

Teixeira will miss the remainder of the season, but there is a silver lining for the Yankees. That comes in the person of 22-year-old rookie Greg Bird, a left-handed slugger who is playing full time now that Teixeira is unavailable. Bird has always been a big power and patience guy in the minors, and those skills have translated to the big leagues nicely. He's already got seven home runs in 29 games played to go with an 11-percent walk rate. Like many power hitters, Bird's big weakness is strikeouts, but he's managed to punish southpaws so far in a small sample.

Having a young player contribute as positively as Bird has must be a refreshing experience for Yankees fans, but like we said a couple of paragraphs ago, the team's success is mostly due to old guys playing well. Catcher Brian McCann is another great example of that, as he leads Yankees position players in WAR thanks to his 25 home runs and ability to still play catcher at a high level. Two years into the five-year deal that he inked with the Yanks in 2014, McCann has proven to be one of the most consistent offensive catchers in baseball. The last time he failed to hit 20 home runs in a season was back in 2007.

Of course, we can't have a Yankees vs. Mets preview without mentioning Carlos Beltran. Sadly, the 38-year-old version of the former Mets hero is a defensive liability instead of a Gold Glove winner, but like Teixeira, he has greatly improved his output at the plate over the last year. In 2014, Beltran's .233/.301/.402 hitting made him barely worth playing, but this season BABIP has been much kinder to him and he's back in the saddle with a 117 wRC+. Perhaps if Beltran can continue to pad his stats in the American League for another few years, we'll have another Mets player to vote into the Hall of Fame.

The Yankees offense has seen plenty of pleasant surprises this year, but the most pleasant of all has been the return to greatness of baseball's most famous player, Alex Rodriguez. To play what has so far been a full season while hitting .255/.357/.502 at age 40 is pretty astounding. It's even more impressive when you consider that Rodriguez was suspended from baseball for the entire 2014 campaign. The Yankees and their fans may have wanted to paint him as a villain back in March, but they've been forced to embrace the former pariah now that he's proven to be useful.

Most of the Mets' sluggers are on the other side of 30, but they do have one older guy playing well: the captain himself, David Wright! In just 26 games played this season, the third baseman has already been worth one WAR in part thanks to a 16-percent strikeout rate that is his lowest since his rookie campaign. Wright's old power isn't totally back (and let's face it, that might never completely return), but he's still hitting for more power than he did in 2014. If he can keep hitting line drives and getting on base (and playing in games), Wright will continue to be an asset for the Mets in 2015 and beyond.

Piggybacking Harvey

Back in June, you'd have been called crazy if you said that the Mets' offense would be comparable to that of the Yankees, but the two lineups are very close now that Yoenis Cespedes is in the fold and young position players like Travis d'Arnaud and Wilmer Flores are hitting well.

The rotations might be close as well when you consider the Mets' recent struggles with performance and innings limits as well as the appearance of 21-year-old rookie Luis Severino for the Yankees. The Mets won't see that guy this weekend, however. Instead, they'll face off against Masahiro Tanaka, a 26-year-old right-hander whose terrific pitching as of late seems to be overshadowed by the constant will-he or won't-he Tommy John surgery drama (always remember, writers aren't doctors).

Right now, Tanaka appears to be over the arm injury that he suffered through in May and is playing at a very high level. His overall numbers aren't quite as strong as those he burst onto the scene with in 2014, but Tanaka has a total of 22 strikeouts and just two walks in three starts this month for a 2.11 September ERA. His presence could put a lot of pressure on Steven Matz, the Mets lefty who has only made four starts in his major league career. On the plus side, he's yet to have a lousy one and appears to have an outside shot at the postseason rotation.

On Saturday, a rare nationally televised matinee pits Michael Pineda against Noah Syndergaard. While Pineda threw his hat into the "BEST PITCHA IN NEW YAWK" ring with an incredible 16-strikeout performance on May 10, he hasn't pitched as well since then (let the narratives run wild with that one). Still, the Yankees could do worse than a 26-year-old who walks slightly more than one batter per nine innings while striking out nearly nine per nine. I have a feeling that the trade that brought Pineda to New York in exchange for former catcher prospect Jesus Montero is going over pretty well in the Bronx.

On the Mets side tomorrow will be Syndergaard, the rookie right-hander who struggled through much of August before twirling a gem in Atlanta (seven innings, eight strikeouts, one walk, one run) last Saturday. Not only was it great to see Thor regain his dominant form following a skipped start, but it was also neat to see him succeed on the road, where he hasn't pitched so well this season.

Date Time Television Yankees Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
September 18, 2015 7:10 PM PIX 11 Masahiro Tanaka Steven Matz
September 19, 2015 1:05 PM FOX Michael Pineda Noah Syndergaard
September 20, 2015 8:08 PM ESPN CC Sabathia Matt Harvey

Finally, Sunday brings us the matchup that everyone has been waiting for: CC Sabathia versus Matt Harvey. Well, not quite. First of all, it's been three years since Sabathia has posted an ERA below 4.00, and he's much closer to 5.00 than that mark in 2015. The big lefty just doesn't have the same strikeout stuff that he used to, and he's allowed 26 home runs so far. Second, Harvey is probably going to be limited in this outing due to his innings count being at 171.2 for the season. With the Mets wanting to get in one additional Harvey start before the end of the regular season (and with Harvey's self-imposed innings limit of 180 approaching), manager Terry Collins likely won't let his right-handed troublemaker go more than five frames on Sunday.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

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