The New York Mets and New York Yankees kick off their annual Subway Series on Friday night at Yankee Stadium with nearly identical records. The Mets, third place in the National League East, are 32-26, while the Yankees, third in the American League East, are 31-25. This series has certainly had more glamour in years past: the super-power Yankees are always among the best teams in the league, and that's really no different now. But the Mets are in serious rebuild mode, without a lot of star power, which makes their relevance, even about a third of the way into the season, that much more notable.
The Yankees have won five of their last seven games to vault them into the thick of the AL East race, while the Mets are 4-3 in June and in the middle of potentially a defining few series against teams considered playoff contenders. The team from the Bronx is always expected to be in the playoff discussion ... but the team from Queens was supposed to be the doormat of the major leagues. Instead, the Mets have hung in tough division. The real difference between the teams lies in the run differential: the Yankees are plus-29, while the Mets are negative-eight, meaning this feel-good run could come to a crashing halt without better pitching.
That being said, these New York teams have each had solid starts to their seasons. Let's take a position-by-position look at each of them to see where they stack up against each other and discern who has the advantage, based on early-season statistics, in this three-game set.
Catcher: So maybe this wasn't the best place to start, as each team has catchers who aren't exactly lighting the world on fire. Josh Thole missed a bunch of games with a concussion, so he's only played in 33 games. His .283/.345/.349 line that includes a home run and seven RBI isn't anything that great. Russell Martin may get the slight edge despite a .210/.347/.391 line because he has six home runs, two of which have come in the last three games. Both guys have been equally effective in cutting down would-be basestealers.
First Base: This one's an easy one. Ike Davis has been pretty much the worst major-league regular. A .161/.237/.278 triple-slash doesn't get it done in tee-ball, let alone the major leagues, but the Mets continue to show faith in him. He does have five home runs and 21 RBI, but his last homer came May 11. Despite two hits in June, he has walked four times in the last three games so maybe he's seeing the ball better. Just maybe. Teixeira is notoriously a slow starter, but his 10 home runs and 33 RBI to go along with a less-than-stellar .245/.316/.455 line is still eons better than Davis'. Metrics indicate Teixeira has also been great in the field, whereas it seems Davis has taken carried his plate struggles out there as he's been below average.
Second Base: Another very easy call, that that's primarily because you're looking at one of the premiere talents in the game at second in Robinson Cano versus a contact-hitting one with no defensive value in Daniel Murphy. Cano has been plus with the glove and just as good in the batter's box, smacking nine home runs and 25 RBI to go along with a great .290/.347/.511 line. Murphy, on the other hand, makes a lot of contact, but hasn't shown any power and has 23 RBI. His .290/.339/.366 line attests to that. The offensive standard at second base is low, so Murphy is still having a decent year there, though his glove work has been atrocious; he has nine errors.
Shortstop: A future Hall of Famer versus, umm ..., the sixth Mets' shortstop of the season? That's another no-brainer. At 37, Derek Jeter is still showing that Father Time can't stop him; the shortstop has six home runs and 20 RBI to go with a .319/.371/.438 triple-slash. The fielding metrics have never been kind to him, but he does only have three errors. In place of Jose Reyes, Ruben Tejada was having a solid year: .305/.362/.400 with good defense. Then he got hurt and the Mets have had to use Ronny Cedeno, Jordany Valdespin, Justin Turner and now Omar Quintanilla at short because of injuries to two and struggles at the position for the other (Valdespin).
Third Base: There's an argument to be made that David Wright is the NL's Most Valuable Player right now. The NL leader in wins above replacement with a 3.7 mark, the third baseman has shrugged off his injury-shortened 2011 season to put up an other-worldly .362/.464/.587 line with seven home runs and 33 RBI. Wright also doesn't have nearly the amount of lineup protection that Alex Rodriguez has, which makes this all the more impressive. Rodriguez has nine homers and 30 RBI, but his .275/.368/.430 rates pale in comparison. His 1.3 wins-against replacement do as well.
Outfield: This is where it gets tough to just go player versus player, because the Mets, right now, have a lot of moving pieces and interchangable parts in their outfield. Curtis Granderson, with 17 home runs and 39 RBI, and .249/.341/.520 is leaps and bounds the best player in the outfield for either side. Jason Bay hasn't shown too much in his Mets career, but his return to the lineup after injury means there will be a collection of he, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda, Scott Hairston and Andres Torres in the outfield. Duda has the most home runs and RBI on the team with 10 and 35 and a .262/.350/.450 line and has been the primary starter in right field. He'll DH on Friday and Scott Hairston, who has had a hot bat, with eight home runs and 24 RBI, will play right. The rookie, Nieuwhenhuis, has held is own with three home runs, 20 RBI and a .293/.354/..394 line, but looks to be in a platoon situation with his struggles against lefties. When you clear up all that, Nick Swisher (.250/.310/.457, eight homers, 35 RBI) seems to be on the wrong side of the right-field comparison at this point. Raul Ibanez (nine HR, 30 RBI, .255/.310/.503) has been platooning with Andruw Jones (five home runs, .224/.310/.447) in left, but he gets the start against Johan Santana on Friday. Still, the only clear "winner" in this is the Yankees with Granderson in center ... the corners really could go either way for different reasons.
Starting Pitching: Johan Santana vs. Huroki Kuroda -- With a 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 68 strikeouts in 68 innings, even the 3-2 record can't overshadow that he's been one of the best pitchers in the NL. Kuroda has been solid, but with a 3.82 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, the winner is an easy one. Dillon Gee vs. Phil Hughes -- Discounting his start at the end of May when he gave up seven runs, Hughes has pitched very well; he's given up more than three runs once in his last six starts. Gee also has en equally ugly ERA (4.48) and WHIP (1.32), but has been dealing lately as well, giving up two or fewer runs in his last three starts. I call this one a draw. Jonathan Niese vs. Andy Pettitte -- Even in a shortened season, just 35 2/3 innings, the 40-year-old Pettitte has been exceptional, with a 2.78 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. Both lefties are coming off 10-K performances, but Niese's 4.40 ERA and 1.30 WHIP reveal he's been a bit up-and-down this season. Advantage, Pettitte.
Bullpen: Polar opposites here. The Yankees' bullpen has been lethal, tallying close to a strikeout per inning and a 2.84 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. On the other hand, the Mets' bullpen has been a mess, as only Bobby Parnell (2.80 ERA) has an ERA under 3. As it stands, their bullpen has a 5.38 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, and it's the main reason why they need their starters to go deep into games.
Even though the Yankees have more of the big names, the Mets have proven to be no slouches, with a number of guys matching up well, obviously still early on. The bullpen is where this series could be decided, and that's the area the Yankees have a massive advantage in.