City Divided As Mets, Yankees Both Make Postseason For First Time Since 2015
Well, that didn’t work out.
Here in New York City, just one week ago, never before had the Mets and Yankees been so good at the same time. Each would win about 100 games. Both would get a first-round bye and home-field advantage for a Division Series in which they would be heavily favored. They would then face the only better teams in their respective leagues, the Dodgers and the Astros, for a possible meeting in a Subway Series. In a city where the teams’ 7 and 4 trains cross at 90-degree angles, the Mets and Yankees approached their Octobers on unprecedentedly parallel tracks.
Then came last weekend, when the Mets choked so spectacularly in a three-game sweep to Atlanta that their current wild-card existence—brought to you by Heimlich!—feels generous. They now must survive a three-game series against the Padres, wasting Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom just to face the 111-win Dodgers one round early. (Yeah, the Mets host all three wild-card games, but Citi Field’s proximity to LaGuardia augurs a pre-takeoff cancellation of spirit.) Meanwhile, the Yankees will yet again limousine into the Division Series, where the Indians or Rays could be mere speed bumps to a meeting with Houston for—good grief, not again!—the World Series. So, after a regular season in which the 101-win Mets and 99-win Yankees should appear of similar quality, they now enter the playoffs with entirely different vibes.
But they both did make it—which is far rarer than most realize. Even with so many new wild-card doors to the playoffs, only one day in the past 16 years—Oct. 6, 2015—featured both New York teams alive in the same postseason (when the wild-card Yankees bowed out meekly in their one-and-done 3-0 loss to the Astros). Now they will spend at least this weekend and probably another week together, filling stadiums every night for what could become the most exciting October New York has ever enjoyed.
Yet to us New Yorkers, all these two franchises share are our city taxes. They always have. One demands excellence; the other invites dread. One plays in a stoic, cement-enclosed Stadium; the other in a brick-and-breezy Field. One has way-too-serious announcers; the Mets’ booth opens baseball cards and discusses Keith Hernandez’s cat. Yankees fans wear their hats tall and proud, like Marines, while Mets caps weigh their wearers down, slightly hunching them to brace for the inevitable.
The clubs have never resembled each other throughout their 60-year coexistence—and not even in the 2022 season, while winning a combined 200 games. Their similarities are merely surface.
This year’s Mets marched to 101 wins with a remarkable, season-long tempo. They played to a .577 winning percentage (a 93-win pace) in every month but June, when it was still .520. Last weekend’s Atlanta disaster notwithstanding, the Mets never really played poorly; the Braves simply won 70% of their games the last four months.
Meanwhile, the Yankees played three completely disparate sub-seasons: the first half, when their 61-23 start built a staggering 15.5-game division lead; a grotesque next two months, when they went 22-33 and saw their lead shrink to 3.5; and then the final three weeks, when a 16-7 record steadied the boat into the playoff pier. It’s quite reasonable to wonder which Yankee team will show up next week.
The teams’ lineups are even more different—beyond the fact that one is led by a Terminator-like cyborg and the other by a cuddly polar bear.
The Yankees outpaced the American League with 4.98 runs a game, but did so without, you know, actually running. They led the majors in jogging to first on walks (620 times) and then jogging home on 254 home runs. Their on-deck circle might as well have a leather recliner with the built-in beer fridge. And it’s hard to imagine a more one-man postseason lineup—while Aaron Judge’s stunning 211 OPS+ was the majors’ highest in any full season in the post-Barry Bonds era, only one other Yankee regular (Anthony Rizzo, 131) was above 114. Balance? Judge is like the big fat kid on one end of the see-saw, laughing as his eight friends giddily jump on the other side, no match at all.
The Mets, for their part, scored 4.77 runs per game, fourth in their league, but through entirely different—and vastly more aesthetic—means. Their lineup was spectacularly level: all of their eight non-catcher regulars had a final OPS+ between 106 (the now red-hot Eduardo Escobar) and 146 (Pete Alonso). Their home run and walk totals were essentially major league average. Their runs derived from, you know running—singles and doubles and triples that built exciting rallies. They had 1,242 non-homer hits, the N.L.’s most save the Coors Field Rockies.
The pitching staffs do resemble each other to a point. The Yankees’ 3.30 ERA was second in their league, the Mets’ 3.57 third in theirs. As for nasty aces, if Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer were locked in a room, it’s even-money who would come out alive. Some will reflexively say the Mets have an additional ace in deGrom, but he has looked nothing like one for a month, yielding at least three earned runs in his four starts against mostly bad teams; and even when he’s on, deGrom’s reliance on seven-pitch strikeouts leaves him exiting games earlier than most people realize, tapping a bullpen with—let’s remember—no intra-series days off in the new playoff format.
(Speaking of bullpens—one team has the majors’ best closer with the best entrance music, and it’s not that Mariano what’s-his-name anymore.)
Comparing the Mets and Yankees in October feels quite strange, because it almost never happens. They’ve never been good—certainly not this year’s good—at the same time, with success and incompetence hot-potatoed back and forth for 60 years now. Consider these never-overlapping eras:
- 1962-1964: Yankees win three straight pennants and one World Series, while the expansion Mets set records for ineptitude. Both teams do stink briefly after that, until …
- 1969-1973: Mets win 1969 World Series and 1973 National League pennant. Yankees slog through Horace Clarke era.
- 1976-1981: Yankees win two World Series and two more pennants while Mets are by far the worst team in the National League.
- 1984-1990: Mets average 95 wins per year and win 1986 World Series; Yankees splinter into shards of Oscar Azocar.
- 1995-2012: Yankees stage longest run of dominance in expansion era, missing playoffs only once while winning five World Series and 13 division championships. The Mets do wild-card their way to the 2000 World Series against the Yankees—where they were flicked away in five games—but win only one division title during these 18 seasons.
- 2013-2016: Yankees miss playoffs three out of four years; Mets reach 2015 World Series and then wild card.
- 2017-2021: Yankees reach playoffs every year, while Mets never finish higher than third or fourth.
Now here we are, wondering if 2022 could fulcrum another new period. The Mets are, objectively, probably the better team this year, and if they can ambush the Dodgers in a five-game series—they did beat L.A. 4 games to 3 during the regular season—could become World Series favorites. As for the future, now it’s the Mets with the city’s celebrity, win-at-all-costs owner, his sights set on—who else?—Aaron Judge, without whom the Yankees offense would simply collapse.
Outsiders will cite the 2000 Subway Series as the one October when the Mets and Yankees have been even. But those of us who were there—I was, covering it for Baseball America —remember that even then, the teams weren’t close. The Yankees were two-time defending champions, with Derek and Mariano and Paulie and Bernie and Tino and … ugh, enough. Bombers in five. This was a Yankee town and it would stay that way.
This year feels different. The Mets certainly made it more difficult for themselves, and when my Lindor-jerseyed son subways to Citi Field for Game 1 Friday night, the 7 train’s third rail will feel terrifyingly close. But at least he’ll be going, dreaming of a World Series against … well, anyone but the Yankees. Not worth the risk.
Alan Schwarz was the Senior Writer for Baseball America from 1991 to 2007.