If only the Yankees and Mets’ 2023 seasons could contain as much intrigue and sheer drama as the off-season did.
New York’s two major league baseball teams had busy winters, on the heels of bitterly disappointing conclusions to the 2022 season. Through gnashed teeth, let us remember that the Yankees lost to the eventual champions, the Houston Astros, in four straight playoff games. Meanwhile, the Mets followed up a brilliant regular season with a meek and frustrating Wild Card loss.
The off-season was all-consuming–however, in dramatically different ways.
Yankees fans celebrated the signing of free agent slugger Aaron Judge, who set an American League single season record in 2022 with his 62 home runs. The Mets thought they had solved a big problem when they kept free agent Edwin Diaz, but were devastated when MLB’s most dominant closer last year injured his knee while celebrating a Puerto Rico win in the World Baseball Classic–and subsequently undergoing year-ending surgery.
Only a fool would flat-out make a prediction about the outcome of the 162-game season, plus the playoffs. Fine–I’ve been called worse. And I’ll say that the Yankees will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Sorry, Mets fans, I’m reversing my earlier call. The Diaz absence is a mountain too high to scale.
The Yankees Key Players: Aside from Judge, the Yankees indispensable players may well be in the bullpen. The tandem of set-up man Michael King and closer Clay Holmes led the bullpen and propelled the Yankees to the top of the American League for the first half of 2022, before injuries and slumps complicated matters.
The Yankees will hit! Aaron Judge probably won’t hit another 60-plus home runs. But with Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and others in the lineup, the Yankees won’t have to worry about having a power failure. Young shortstop Anthony Volpe made the opening day roster and is the youngest starting rookie since his boyhood idol Derek Jeeter broke into the lineup.
Veteran starting pitcher Luis Severino starts the season on the injured list. But the Yankees are relatively deep in starting pitching. Ace Gerrit Cole leads a veteran staff and a big season is expected for emerging star Nestor Cortes. The Yanks brass insists the IL stint for Rodon is nothing serious. In major league baseball, a team can never have too much starting pitching.
Prediction: The Yankees will win 100-plus game during the regular season and finally make it back to the World Series. Will they win it all? Check back here in October!
The Mets. Key Players: “If you ain’t got a bullpen, you got nothin’,” as Yogi Berra, who managed the Mets to the World Series 50 years ago against the eventual champion Oakland A’s, once said. That sums up the Mets now. The shocking season-ending injury to Diaz has given the team the daunting challenge of somehow this season finding a replacement for the best closer in MLB in 2022.
The Mets need for a reliable closer is most pressing because their two aging hall of fame-bound starters, newcomer Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, are slated to pitch six-inning games, before the bullpen takes over. The Mets’ starting pitching looks to be solid. Their middle relief seems reliable as well. But who will step forward to get the 25th, 26th and 27th outs?
The Mets offer potentially the most prolific lineup in the National League. I think slugger Pete Alonso will take the leap to Most Valuable Player status. And Jeff McNeil won the NL batting title last year, hitting .326. And shortstop Francisco Lindor finally seems comfortable and ready to break out with a monster season. The Mets will surely score a lot of runs. But can they outscore the opposition?
The Real Battle of New York
The real battle of New York will be fought by the owners. The reserved Hal Steinbrenner of the Yankees and the almost operatic, free-spending Steve Cohen of the Mets are waging a fight for control of the city’s hearts and minds.
The Yankees have owned the town since at least the mid-1990s and handing the starting SS job to rookie Anthony Volpe earned them another flash of sports page dominance this week. The last time the Mets truly dominated was the few years around their 1986 World Series championship. But billionaire Cohen, who has the deepest pockets of any owner in MLB will have none of it. He intends to shell out whatever it takes to lift the Mets to new heights. Is a mid-season free agent relief signing in the cards?
Only one can dominate the cherished back pages of the New York Post and the Daily News. Only one can lead the discussions at WFAN. And only one can loom largest on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
The owners are duking it out for a long term legacy. For the players, it all starts for real on March 30, as the Yanks welcome the San Francisco Giants to the Bronx for the first time since 2016 and the Mets start on the road the same day under the dome vs the Miami Dolphins. The Subway Series will see the Yankees at Citi Field in June and the Mets at Yankee Stadium in July.