By Matt Mirro
As a native of New York there hasn’t been much to cheer about in recent years as far as sports teams are concerned. Coming into the Spring of 2015 the outlook was bleak once again. The Jets and Giants had just ended miserable seasons as the Knicks actually brought tears to my eyes. The Bills were improving but still perennial losers while the Nets limped to the NBA playoffs only to be eliminated in the first round. The Rangers continued to be a team that could make it so close to the Stanley Cup only to miss just short. The Islanders excited the NHL playoffs early and then proceeded to leave my hometown of Long Island in favor of the new, budding hotspot of Brooklyn.
Then there’s the baseball teams. All winter long the Yankee had avoided making the huge offseason splashes the fans so clamored for. Max Scherzer went to the Nationals, James Shields signed with the Padres and Jon Lester inked a deal with the Cubs. The Yankees three biggest acquisitions were Sir Did Gregorius, Andrew Miller and Nathan Eovaldi. An aging lineup and injury prone rotation has many thinking the mighty Yankees would finish a year below .500 for the first since before I was even born. It was a grim outlook for my beloved Bronx Bombers.
What of the Mets? Well, for years they’ve shown signs of improving as a young core began to come into its own. Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom was looking for a repeat of his spectacular season while staff ace Matt Harvey set his sights on finally returning from Tommy John Surgery. But what would he be on once he stepped back on to the field? The front office declined to sign an improvement at the shortstop position, choosing to stick with Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada instead. Michael Cuddyer had joined the fold along and top prospects Stephen Matz and Noah Sydergaard were just a few short steps from playing in Queens. But there was still some growing up to do, some pieces missing before the Mets could conceivably compete with the powerhouse Washington Nationals.
Early on, the baseball world and New York fans alike didn’t know what to make of these two teams. The Yankees started off slowly, losing more games than they won while the offense seemed as sluggish as the two previous years. The Mets began the season hot, going on an 11-game winning streak but had lost Zach Wheeler to pre-season Tommy John Surgery, David Wright to a hamstring injury and Jenry Menjia to a 80-game suspension for failing a test for Performance Enhancing Drugs. Yankees’ ace Masahiro Tanaka, still an uncertainty with a partial UCL tear in his elbow, was sidelined with forearm inflammation early in the season and centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury suffered a sprained knee after starting out the season red-hot.
The Mets would fall back to Earth and the Yankees would command first place in the American League East for a few months until the Toronto Blue Jays acquired David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Latroy Hawkins and Ben Revere before the July 31st Trade Deadline and went on a winning streak that propelled them to first place. But the Yankees still hold the first Wild Card spot with the Texas Rangers currently slated to go to the Bronx for the one game playoff. The Mets hold a sustainable lead over the Washington Nationals who have dealt with injuries and underperforming players all season long. Both New York teams are poised for a playoff berth and the Big Apple is electric. Not only have the Mets not been to the playoffs since 2006 the Bombers haven’t seen October baseball in two years, a rare and rather uncomfortable sight.
The Yankees have been lead by a resurgent Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (Now currently on the disabled list) who have put up power numbers we never thought they’d put up again. Brian McCann has made everyone forget about his rough 2014 campaign by showcasing his best power year ever and throwing out baserunners left and right. Didi Gregorius has made a name for himself in pinstripes, shaking off early season struggles to become an above average player on both sides of the ball. The pitching staff has held firm with aid from top prospect and now premier rookie Luis Severino as well as young right hander Nathan Eovaldi who is having a breakout year after being acquired from the Miami Marlins in the off season. A lethal bullpen of Andrew Miller, Chasen Shreve, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller has ensured the Yankees hold leads in the late innings
In Flushing, the banishment of Mejia (Twice! He was suspended again, this time for 162 games) lead them to discover the ability of Jeurys Familia who has become one of baseball’s top closers. Matt Harvey has pitched like an ace but has served as a better number two with deGrom rolling as the Mets’ current number one. Despite David Wright’s lingering injury issues and Cuddyer’s mediocre performance general manager Sandy Alderson has found a way to piece together a playoff caliber lineup. By acquiring Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes the front office filled plenty of wholes in the lineup and the acquisition of former Oakland Athletics’ and Washington Nationals’ closer Tyler Clippard helped sure up a shaky bullpen.
It’s incredible to, with football just around the corner, be able to open Newsday and see baseball news filling the pages. The much improved Jets and always interesting Giants have taken a back seat to the largely entertaining New York baseball scene. No one, and I mean NO ONE, thought that the upcoming September series between the Yankees and Mets would mean anything but the way these teams have played all year has made it must see television and, likely, a very crucial series for both clubs. Baseball has taken control over New York once again. In the world’s largest media market two of the biggest franchises in all of baseball are fighting for control of the headlines.
Both teams are safe bets to make the postseason, a rare event that hasn’t happened since 2006 and it is a compelling story all throughout the tristate area. If October baseball truly is in New York’s future I, as a Long Island resident, can not help but be overly exuberated by the idea of the entire New York sports world seeing a renewal across the board. If this all comes to fruition, and I pray to every deity out there that it is, mark it down that it all began in 2015 with the reborn New York Yankees and New York Mets.