All things considered, the idea to have the New York Yankees play the New York Mets for the first time in September turned out to be a great call. Local fans got a late-season view of their crosstown rivals, national audiences saw some exciting contests, and the two teams got a playoff-like tuneup as they prep for their respective postseason runs.
Major League Baseball couldn’t have asked for anything more. (Well, maybe the sport could have asked for one or both teams to be on the brink of elimination from the playoffs, but let’s not get greedy.) It also gave everyone a chance to take stock of the two clubs as they hope to contend for league championships and, just maybe, a World Series title.
We certainly learned a great deal from seeing the Mets and Yankees in action for three games at Citi Field in Queens. Here are five things that stood out from the latest edition of New York’s Subway Series.
1. Carlos Beltran’s revival is complete.
You saw him casually jack a 100-mile-per-hour fastball (an 0-2 pitch) from Noah Syndergaard into the upper deck at Citi Field for a three-run homer in the first inning of the second game, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead. (They won 5-0.) You saw him coolly lace a two-run double to give the Yankees the lead — one they never relinquished — in the rubber game Sunday night. Carlos Beltran is officially back and showed him his offensive prowess with two game-changing hits.
As death notices go, Beltran’s were more than exaggerated rumors; you’d have sworn coroners from across the land signed the post-mortem documents and sent his body off to its final resting place. Instead, the Yankees have a potent veteran bat producing in the middle of the lineup. After a scorching August (14 extra-base hits, a 1.067 OPS), Beltran has continued coming up with big hits in September. For a seasoned postseason performer, his revival is happening at the perfect time for the Yanks.
2. The Matt Harvey experiment is failing.
We remember what happened when the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg late in the 2012 season. In terms of the Washington franchise, nothing happened. The Nats missed the playoffs in 2013 and are on the verge of missing them again in 2015, despite being widely favored to win the World Series. It has been an unmitigated disaster for Strasburg, the team, and his agent, Scott Boras.
But that didn’t stop Team Boras and super client Matt Harvey from trying to protect the pitcher’s health — awkwardly and belatedly, with a few weeks left in the season — as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery. The self-proclaimed Dark Knight, who has pitched brilliantly for New York and occasionally embarrassed himself (and the team) with his social media exploits, has bought into the Boras plan that he should not exceed a set innings limit in 2015. As a result, he will pitch with a leash on for his final starts.
Why would a healthy pitcher only throw a few innings in September when he is in dominant form (as he was against the Yankees Sunday night)? To protect himself for the future, though he could have done so much earlier in the season. So we had the Mets winning 1-0 until Harvey was pulled after the fifth inning; then, the Yankees winning 5-1 by the top of the sixth inning. (The game ended 11-2 in favor of the Yankees).
For the next several days, you could see Mets skipper Terry Collins’s blood boiling and hear his voice rising as he addressed the situation. No one can blame Collins. It’s a disaster, and you have to wonder how the situation will unfold in the playoffs. If you take Harvey out of the mix, the Mets have a much less imposing rotation.
3. The Steven Matz experiment is working just fine.
Talk about an embarrassment of riches. If you are the Mets pitching coach, it seems like every month the club promotes a flame-throwing pitcher under the age of 25 to slice through Major League lineups. Steven Matz (b. 1991) is the latest and greatest starter to join the rotation, and he confidently showed off his chops in the first game of the series, one that ended in a 5-1 victory for the home team.
Matz yielded seven hits and 1 ER with 4 SO and 1 BB, picking up the win in the process. Like a cool veteran, he settled in after the Yankees scored in the first inning and exited with the lead five frames later. Since his return from the disabled list in early September, the Mets have gradually built up Matz’s pitch count over three starts.
With the uncertainty surrounding Matt Harvey, the Mets have may another solid option in Matz when they hit the postseason. You have to give them credit for the way they have handled the lefty’s development from his original call-up to his rehab following the lat muscle injury Matz suffered in July.
4. C.C. Sabathia is far from done.
All eyes were on Matt Harvey starting for the Mets in the Sunday night finale and the righty did not disappoint (5.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 7 So, 1 BB). Fortunately for the Yankees, neither did C.C. Sabathia, the former staff ace who has been written off several times during the 2015 season. (We’ve been guilty of a few ourselves.)
After his latest injury had club officials skeptical he would pitch this year, Sabathia donned a knee brace and turned in three gutty starts for a team that was on the ropes for part of September. Sabathia’s line since his last DL stint is impressive: 17.1 IP, 2 ER, 18 SO, 8 BB. In the rubber game versus the Mets, Sabathia followed a rocky start by trading zeros with Harvey for most of the game, ending with six innings of one-run ball against a stacked right-handed lineup. He picked up a win for his troubles.
With a rotation full of question marks now that Masahiro Tanaka is injured (again), the Yankees need Sabathia to compete down the stretch and into October. The big lefty’s return to form could not have come at a better time for his club.
5. Let’s not crown Yoenis Cespedes MVP yet.
The “Yoenis Cespedes for MVP” whisper campaign turned into audible chatter in early September, even with Bryce Harper’s Ruthian season serving as a silencing agent. Indeed, there was evidence in Cespedes’s favor, including a September when he’s posted a 1.161 OPS, 9 HR, and 19 RBI in 19 games.
If that got your attention, you might want to note that the Mets began August (when Cespedes arrived in New York) trailing the Nationals by two games in the East. Even after losing two of three to the Yankees, the Mets held a six-game lead over the Nats and are going to the postseason.
So he’s had an enormous impact, but Cespedes’s MVP candidacy could be heard screeching to a halt in the three Subway Series games. He went 1-for-11 with 3 SO, 0 R, and 0 RBI. Mix in a play when he looked lost in center field (playing a flyball out into a triple for Dustin Ackley) and you have a flop of a weekend for La Potencia. It doesn’t take away a thing from his brilliant season; it just weakens an MVP candidacy that was already a long shot.