Let’s face it. This four-game Subway Series, with two stops apiece in The Bronx and Queens that opens in the Yanks’ house Monday, presents the ultimate opportunity for the Mets to play spoilers.
These will become the meaningful games for which the Wilpons yearn, even if they are the only ones remaining over the season’s final seven weeks for the 53-62 Mets. They have the Yanks pretty much where they would want them, too.
That would be wobbling and uncertain after their twin pillars of Aaron Judge and the back end of the bullpen — see, Aroldis Chapman — crumbled in Sunday’s 10-inning, 3-2 defeat to the Red Sox in which No. 99 struck out three more times and the lefty closer blew a 2-1 lead in the ninth by yielding a one-out solo home run to 20-year-old and 15-game veteran Rafael Devers.
The Yankees are now a season-high 5 ¹/₂ games out of the division lead and are enmeshed in a multi-team food fight for a wild-card spot that they hold by two games over Minnesota and 2 ¹/₂ over Kansas City.
Given expectations coming out of spring training, this represents a noble achievement. Given their early-season run that stoked excitement and the notable pre-deadline moves pulled off by general manager Brian Cashman, not quite so much.
For it is not just that the Yankees have lost nine of their last 14 games. Fact is that beginning June 13, the Yankees have gone 23-32. Over the same time span, the deconstructing Mets have gone 24-29.
Jordan Montgomery did a nifty job in filling the injured CC Sabathia’s shoes on Sunday, limiting the Red Sox to one run on two hits in 5 ¹/₃ innings. The lefty kept the Yankees in the game against the redoubtable Chris Sale, which is every bit as could have been expected of the 24-year-old in his match against the presumptive AL Cy Young Award winner.
Monday, with Masahiro Tanaka’s shoulder having unexpectedly joined Sabathia’s knee on the 10-day DL, Luis Cessa will get the call to open against the Mets. It had been TBD until Sunday’s game had ended on the Yankees’ probable. Then again, with Rafael Montero (1-8, 6.06) etched in for the Mets, TBD probably didn’t look so bad.
The rotation was projected as a kind of a spit-and-bailing-wire operation when the team convened in Tampa for spring training, so these stop-gap measures don’t seem like the end of the world. Indeed, with Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia having been added to the mix, the starters have upheld their end of the bargain.
But the middle of the order has not since the All-Star break. That’s the part of the lineup featuring what appears to be a cutout of Judge batting third. One of these days, manager Joe Girardi is going to be compelled to move No. 99 down in the order, if not out of the lineup altogether for a mental-health break.
Because while the manager insists that Judge’s issues are “technical,” that does not mean they are not also mounting between his ears. Judge did draw a full-count base-on-balls in the first inning and poked an eighth-inning single into right field, but those three K’s increased the volume to 11 strikeouts in 19 at-bats over his last six games and 46 in 96 at-bats since the All-Star break. Before his 1-for-4, he had been hitting .161/.331/.333 since the hiatus.
The Yankees lived large on the large man, who splurged for .329/.448/.691 with 30 home runs before the break. Now they’re getting crushed by the middle-of-the-order void through which Judge — with just five homers since the All-Star Game — has struck out in 30 consecutive games, two off the single-season record for that dubious achievement established by Adam Dunn in 2011.
Question: Even though cause-and-effect cannot be proved, and even as Judge had begun to descend by striking out 16 times in 34 at-bats in his last 10 games leading into the break, do you think the Yankees will ever again allow one of their sluggers to compete in the Home Run Derby?
“I felt great today…I feel good at the plate so I’m excited for the next few days,” an apparently nonplussed Judge said. “I’ve just got to keep grinding and keep working.
“I feel good in the box. I’m ready to compete, and good things will happen.”
This defeat did not put an end to the Yankees. There is both too much season remaining — 56 games and seven weeks’ worth — and too much ordinary competition for the wild-card berth for that.
But they sure are wobbling. With the Mets on deck as spoilers, relishing what will likely be their last moments in the summer sun.