It was postponed due to the coronavirus last weekend, but the Mets and Yankees will battle in the latest chapter of the Subway Series with five games over the next three days — two doubleheaders on Friday and Sunday with a single game on Saturday.
The Mets have taken four of the last six games and are a half game back of the final playoff spot in the NL. The Yankees, on the other hand, got swept by the Tampa Bay Rays last week and lost their position leading the AL East. And on top of that, they just fell to the Atlanta Braves in both games of their doubleheader Wednesday, moving their losing streak to five games.
Adversity has hit both of these squads already this season, and with much more baseball left to play, there is likely to be more. With the postseason less than a month away, here is what both teams will need to overcome if they wish to make a run in October…
The starting rotation needs to hold it together
With Seth Lugo in the rotation and Steven Matz in the bullpen, the Mets have just two members of their Opening Day rotation who are still in the starting five: Jacob deGrom and Rick Porcello. Michael Wacha should return on Friday, making it three.
Right around the time the Mets took a hit with the opt-out of Marcus Stroman due to coronavirus concerns (just before he was set to make his season debut), the injury bug claimed Wacha and then David Peterson, leading the Mets to shift Robert Gsellman (and then Lugo) to the rotation, while cobbling together their other rotation slot on a weekly basis.
With Wacha set to return and Peterson right behind him, the Mets’ hopes rest mainly on the shoulders of a rotation that is being held together with tape and glue.
Edwin Diaz needs to dominate
When Diaz takes the ball, the tendency of many Mets fans is to cringe, which is understandable given what happened to Diaz in 2019.
Diaz had one terrible outing early this season, which led to his ouster from the closer role. He then rode a string of dominance back to the ninth inning, but has been shaky over his last few appearances.
Diaz has a 2.45 ERA (1.97 FIP) and 1.54 WHIP and has struck out an eye-popping 25 batters in 11 innings with his slider again a difference-maker to go along with his high-octane fastball.
With Diaz now likely in the closer role for the duration, he needs to keep it up in order to help solidify a bullpen that is now without Lugo.
Teams in the NL West need to cool off
If the Mets finish first or second in the NL East, they’ll make the playoffs automatically. If they finish third, they’ll likely need one or two of the teams in the NL West fall back to earth in order for New York to secure one of the two wild card spots.
In a season with an unbalanced schedule and perhaps an uneven number of games played by each team, the Mets — if they don’t finish well above .500 — might not some help from elsewhere to make it to October.
Injuries need to stop
It seems like every day manager Aaron Boone is giving an update on someone needing to be placed on the IL. The latest were James Paxton (left forearm inflammation) and Gleyber Torres (Grade 1 hamstring and quad strains), who were both placed on the list Monday. Luis Avilan had to go on the list, too, with left shoulder inflammation as well as Zack Britton with a hamstring ailment. And on top of all that, Aaron Judge may need to go back on the list after being taken out of his first game back on Wednesday because he felt calf tightness again.
However, it does appear Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu are close to returning, with Boone saying the latter could be back during this weekend set.
Forget making a run in the postseason at the moment. If the Yankees want to win their division and own a top seed in the American League when October comes around, the team will need its powerhouse lineup. Having big bats out for significant periods of time won’t cut it. Yes, the team has the depth to still play quality ball, but having a player fall each week like they have recently will not bode well down the stretch.
A No. 2 behind Gerrit Cole needs to step up
Cole has been as advertised as the Yankees’ new ace, pitching very well in his first outings with the team. He did just toss his first bad outing on Wednesday, giving up five runs over five innings including three homers. But that should be considered a blip with his ace-like stuff on the mound.
Cole obviously can’t pitch every night, though, and there has been no clear No. 2 pitcher behind him thus far. Masahiro Tanaka would be the closest thing to that at the moment, and it was good to see him bounce back against the Braves after throwing a dud against the Rays last week. Paxton figured to be that No. 2 with Luis Severino out, but he has struggled with his fastball velocity and overall location, owning a 6.64 ERA thus far. And J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery are back-end guys.
The Yankees are likely looking at either Tanaka or Paxton to step up down the stretch, but anyone in the rotation needs to at this point.
Handle AL East opponents in September
Before the season began, the Yankees seemed to have a very easy road to the postseason with the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays making up most of their September schedule. Though the Sox have been woeful, the Orioles and Blue Jays haven’t.
If the Yankees don’t have that top spot back in the division by the time September rolls around, this would be the perfect time to handle their AL East foes and make that the case. Because these teams could be fighting for their own playoff berth by that time, too.