The Mets are set to take on the Yankees this weekend, as you know. And naturally, the game will be viewed by fans as a means of evaluating their team against the Yankees. That's just how it is.
But what makes this matchup so compelling is that for the first time in many years, the two teams are playing at similar levels, both in terms of their overall records and recent results.
The Mets, of course, are 38-28, winners of seven in a row and 10 of 11. The Yankees are 41-25, tied for first, winners of 12 of 17.
You have to go back to June 30, 2006 to find the last time both the Mets and Yankees were at least ten games over .500 when they met.
That may not seem like long ago, but it was a very different time for both teams. How different?
Let's start with the pitching matchups. Friday featured Orlando Hernandez for the Mets and Mike Mussina for the Yankees. On Saturday, Steve Trachsel battled Randy Johnson. And in the finale, Jaret Wright and Alay Soler each displayed the form that got them both quickly dispatched from New York. (In fact, it was Soler's final appearance in the major leagues).
Home runs were hit by Jason Giambi, Nick Green, and Eli Marrero. (Seriously. He's the guy the Mets got for Kaz Matsui.) Mets starters that weekend included Chris Woodward at second base, Paul Lo Duca at DH, and Marrero in left field. Yankee starters included Andy Phillips at first base, Miguel Cairo at second base, and Bernie Williams in right field.
And a common question being asked was: were the Mets about to take over the city, with Wright and Reyes entering their primes, and Jeter and A-Rod exiting theirs?
Of course, the ensuing seasons were not nearly as kind to Queens as they were to The Bronx. The Mets have just a lone playoff appearance in 2006 to show for their troubles, while the Yankees made the playoffs in 2006, 2007, and 2009, winning the World Series.
But it is fair to ask if the changing of the guard that appeared to be happening in 2006 is happening, finally, in 2010.
It's not that anyone expects the Yankees to falter anytime soon- despite a ton of injuries, the team has ample talent, with a young group (Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain) set to carry them forward. And where the older group falters, there is that old standby, a Scrooge McDuck pile of money, ready to supplement.
But Derek Jeter is showing signs of age, with just a 107 OPS+ and declining defense. Jose Reyes, meanwhile, has found his footing after losing a year to injury. His OPS+ is just 90, but that is largely a consequence of his slow start- he had three hits last night, and over the last 28 days his OPS is a tremendous .996.
Meanwhile, at third base, David Wright seems to have silenced those odd critics who wanted to attack a player having a Mike Schmidt-type career. He's now got the league lead in RBI, for those who care about that stat, while his OPS+ is a robust 139. Alex Rodriguez, meanwhile, is at just 128, with eight home runs, compared to Wright's 12.
And while it seems all four have been around forever, it is Jeter who is in his age-36 season, Rodriguez in his age-34 season. Wright and Reyes are in just their age-27 seasons.
In other words, the full story of the changing of the guard has yet to be written. Some may believe the Mets lost their chance to do so years ago. And it is implausible that such a moment may again be at hand, difficult to have believed even a month ago. But that is why we love baseball.