New York Is Finally Back in the Pennant Race

After a few dismal years of aging bats and disgraced owners, the Yankees and Mets are making summer fun again.

Young aces. Reinvigorated bats. A new shortstop in town. It’s well past the midway point of the season, and it’s finally safe to say it—great baseball is back in New York City, and it’s about damn time. The past few years of New York baseball have been marred by broke owners, bizarre lawsuits, and one retirement party too many. There seemed to be something moribund in the sport that was meant to give the idle days of the summer so much life. And while both the Yankees and Mets still have outside shots at winning a championship this year, they’re both smack dab in the middle of pennant races, a position that’s actually a lot more exciting than watching a behemoth like the Cardinals lurch its way towards the playoffs.

Old man A-Rod having fun!

Before the season began, expectations were low for both the Yankees and Mets. The Yankees were coming off yet another disappointing season, and were counting on older players having a bounce back year to try to buy their depleted farm system time to produce a new “core four.” Over in Queens the Mets had another boring off-season, failing to sign a decent hitter to provide some support for their incredibly gifted rotation of young pitchers (and the equally gifted, but no longer youthful, Bartolo Colon). But once the season started, what looked to be two of the more middling teams in both leagues were suddenly at the top of their divisions. And they’ve stayed there.

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The Yankees now hold a seven game lead in the AL East, a lead that’s not insurmountable, but doesn’t look to be disappearing anytime soon. Alex Rodriguez has gone from villain to hero, putting together possibly the best 40-year-old campaign ever for a slugger, especially one who was forced to sit out an entire season. Mark Teixeira is finally healthy, and has found the fire again (enough fire to take out his petty frustrations on a water cooler). The one-two punch of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner is as solid a top of the order as you’ll find in the majors, provided that they are actually healthy enough to be in the lineup at the same time. And Did Gregorious, brought in to fill the un-fillable cleats of Derek Jeter, has caught fire as of late after a dismal beginning to the season. Suddenly, the Yankees, whose hitting was absolutely atrocious last season, are bombers once again. Last night, they scored 11 runs in the second inning, finishing with 21 before the night was through. If their pitching can stay healthy (which is by no means a given), then the Yankees are on a collision course with the Royals for the American League crown, a throwback to the classic battles of the late-seventies, when you could have penciled in an October matchup between the two teams as soon as the season began.

The Mets, victorious, also having fun!

The Mets present a completely different picture. Buoyed by insanely good pitching, the Mets are only one game behind the under-performing Nationals in an unusually weak NL East. Even though their lineup is anemic, the Mets really don’t need to score a ton of runs to win the division. Even if they end up passing on a very available Jose Reyes (the temptation of a reunion with the Flushing faithful might be too much to pass up), their pitching is just so good, they’ll still be in the pennant race until the very end and might actually win it. Jacob DeGrom has replaced Matt Harvey as the ace, while Noah Syndergaard almost pitched a perfect game last night. While GM Sandy Alderson has taken heat for the past five seasons for enabling the Mets indebted owners to keep salary low and field an embarrassingly bad team, he had been holding onto a hand full of aces the whole time. Now he’s finally put them on the table. When Matt Harvey takes the mound this Friday against the Nationals, Flushing will be electric.

The Mets could be deadly in a one-game Wild Card playoff or a short series, if only their hitting could get them that far. It probably won’t. But finding out if that will happen is the fun part! The Yankees could advance all the way to the World Series, but they would have to beat younger, hungrier, and healthier teams. Can they summon the will to pull it off? That will also be fun to find out! Finally, the sounds of actual live baseball, and not discussions of financial misdeeds, lawsuits, PED’s, or reminiscences of the days of yore, will again punctuate a steamy August in New York. Play ball. 

Photos by Elsa/Getty Images