Friday, June 8, 2012

Now begins the litmus test

Two months into the season, and no one thought the New York Mets would be contenders for the National League's Eastern division title, but there they are, 1 1/2 games in back of the front-running Washington Nationals, this after they salvaged the final game of their series in the nation's capital on Thursday behind their top winner, R. A. Dickey, who ran his record to 9-1 in beating Washington. The Nationals are the only team the Mets don't have a winning record against in their own division, which is saying something by itself.

With last Friday's no-hitter by Johan Santana vs. St. Louis, the Mets began a difficult stretch where they were playing division leaders and/or contenders, and that includes interleague play, which resumes tonight against the Yankees. The Mets took 3 out of 4 from the defending World Series champions, losing the finale on Monday, spoiling ex-teammate Carlos Beltran's return to New York in the process. The series this weekend against the Yankees isn't just for bragging rights to the city, a matter that will be resolved, at least for now, when the Subway Series ends at Citi Field on June 24, but rather, with both teams in a prime position to move into first place in their respective divisions, it will be war. Santana goes tonight against ex-Dodger Hiroki Kuroda, who has struggled to adjust to American League hitters and has not been the reliable #2 starter behind C C Sabathia that the Yanks thought he'd be. Tomorrow night's nationally televised game (Fox's Baseball Night in America) pits Dillon Gee against Phil Hughes, and on Sunday afternoon, the Yankees' Comeback Player of the Year candidate, Andy Pettite, faces fellow lefty Jonathan Niese. Just for kicks, the Yanks plucked ex-Met Ryota Igarashi off the waiver wires after he was cut by Toronto the other day, but if he was woefully inconsistent in two years in Flushing, what makes the Yankees think he can dedevil his former mates? The answer, for now, is, he can't. The Mets will be ready for him.

The rest of the interleague schedules for both the Mets & Yankees aren't exactly cupcake city.

The Mets travel to Tampa Bay, then play the upstart Baltimore Orioles, next week. After a brief respite for intraleague play, they finish the Subway Series in Flushing, meaning they don't get to play Boston, and this is where the schedule makers fumbled the ball. It was one thing when former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine was signed by Boston, and has already been to the Bronx, but there would've been plenty of headlines were the BoSox to play the Mets this year. The tabloids would've played it up bigger than necessary, especially considering the Red Sox are in last place after another terrible start.

Curiously, in addition to the annual home-and-home vs. the Mets, the Yankees likewise have a home-and-home with Atlanta, which doesn't make a lot of sense. In between, the Bronx Bombers travel to Washington, which might do the Mets some favors. No Miami, no Philadelphia. What gives?

Well, the Phillies & Yankees met in interleague play a couple of years ago, so the schedule making jabronies figured, it's too soon to match them up again. That doesn't explain the el snubbo given to the Marlins, for whom the Yanks helped christen their new park two months ago. My first thought was, did MLB goof here? I guess not, but you have to figure it's the subject of discussion on sports talk shows throughout New York. Of course, it'll all be a moot point next year, as interleague play will be woven into the regular schedule from the go, due to the revamped structures of both leagues, and maybe, just maybe, the schedule nerds reserved a Yankees-Marlins series for 2013 ahead of time.

After this weekend, the Mets & Yankees will be rooting for each other before meeting again June 22-24 at Citi Field, and who knows? Maybe by then, both teams will be in first place. Then again, maybe not, because this will also be a test to prove whether or not the Nationals & Orioles are for real, too.

Who needs the NBA Finals? Interleague baseball is more exciting and unpredictable, and that's just the way we fans like it.

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