The calendar has flipped over to September…and both the Mets and Yankees remain in the mix for Wild Card spots in their respective leagues.
Beset by injuries at every turn, the Mets have managed to hang in there at 69-64 heading into tonight’s game against the Marlins. The club trails the Cardinals by 1 1/2 games for the second wild card spot although Pittsburgh (2 1/2 back) and Miami (3 1/2 back) are also in the hunt.
The Yankees were sellers at the trade deadline for the first time since the late 80s but a few of their youthful call-ups have sparked a late-season push. The Bronx Bombers are 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore and Detroit, who are tied for the second wild card. Houston is only one game back.
Here’s a quick look at what to watch over the final month of the season for both local teams.
- What happens at second base? Neil Walker will miss the rest of the season as he’s opted for surgery on a herniated disc in his lower back. The club had Dilson Herrera stashed away in Triple-A as the second baseman of the future but traded him to the Reds for Jay Bruce in a deadline deal. Walker was having a career year and was replacing 2015 postseason hero Daniel Murphy, who signed with the Nationals in free agency. Kelly Johnson came up with a clutch hit on Wednesday night and Wilmer Flores has had a pretty solid year in a super-utility role. Will those two do enough to replace Walker on a team that badly needs his offensive production?
- Is there enough starting pitching depth? It seems crazy to ask this question about the Mets, who have seemingly had more pitchers than they knew what to do with not long ago. Yet injuries have taken a toll as Steven Matz, Matt Harvey and the reacquired Jon Niese are all out. Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom have been terrific with almost identical numbers – Syndergaard has more strikeouts. Bartolo Colon, his double play last night aside, is 12-7 with a 3.35 ERA and 28 walks in 158 2/3 innings at age 43. That trio at its peak just might be enough to power the Mets through a playoff series, but is it enough to get there?
- Can Gary Sanchez keep up the pace? Rookie catcher Gary Sanchez took no time displacing former All-Star Brian McCann as the Yankees’ backstop. Not only has he shown himself to be adept behind the plate, he has 11 home runs, 21 RBI and a .441 on-base percentage in just about one month of regular big league duty. Sanchez can’t possibly hit another 11 homers in September – can he? – but can he at least avoid a slump and find ways to create offense? We’ve seen the likes of Kevin Maas and Shane Spencer and Shelley Duncan before but does Sanchez have what it takes to do this over the long term? Obviously we won’t know the answer to that for years but a solid second month would go a long way for the young Sanchez.
- Will we learn anything about the pitching staff of the future? Masahiro Tanaka has been brilliant as the ace but the rest of the staff has had issues. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi never quite figured it out this year and Eovaldi will miss all of 2017 with an elbow injury to boot. CC Sabathia is 8-11 but is really about a league-average No. 4 starter at this point. Luis Severino was 1-8 with a 7.19 ERA in a sophomore slump. Severino might be back as a September call-up as could a number of promising young pitchers. Will the Yankees find some pitchers of the future this month? Will anyone emerge as a potential sidekick to Dellin Betances in a depleted bullpen?