Yankees Look Like a Juggernaut, Mets Listing Toward Laughing Stock as Season Gets Under Way

There is jubilation at the Bronx and consternation at Queens as the two local teams appear to be on divergent trajectories.

AP/Kevin M. Cox
The Yankees' Juan Soto celebrates after hitting an RBI single during the ninth inning against the Houston Astros, March 31, 2024, at Houston. AP/Kevin M. Cox

A baseball season is 162 games long. It is not too early, though, for the Yankees to be giddy about their fast start to the new campaign, or for the Mets to be concerned about their stumbles out of the gate. 

The Yankees have five straight wins to open the season. They followed the first sweep ever of the Houston Astros with a 5-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix on Monday, giving the Bronx squad its best start since 1992.

“It’s a lot of fun watching those guys compete, and it’s happening on both sides of the ball,” the Yankees manager, Aaron Boone, told reporters at Houston. “These guys are having fun playing the game right now.”

The Mets, though, are not having fun. Under a rookie manager, Carlos Mendoza, a team that hoped to be competitive has lost its first four games, all at Citi Field. They managed just one hit in the season-opening loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, who swept the three-game series. The Mets followed that by being shut out at home by the Detroit Tigers on Monday.

“When it comes to what’s happening, I just feel like we haven’t found our footing,” the Mets shortstop, Francisco Lindor, told reporters after the game. “Everybody shows up early to batting practice and study. We are well prepared. That coaching staff is preparing us. We know what we got to do. We just haven’t executed.”

Here’s why what happens in the first week of a 162-game season matters. The Yankees opened the year knowing it may be a month or more before their 2023 Cy Young winner, Gerrit Cole, is ready to return to the rotation. Every win the Yankees can notch now, especially road wins, will keep them from having to play catch-up when Mr. Cole returns. Luis Gil, who replaced Mr. Cole in the rotation, had a quality start in Arizona, allowing just one hit and one earned run in four and two thirds innings.

“I think there’s an energy and there’s an excitement in the clubhouse and there’s also a trust factor, too,” another Yankees pitcher, Clarke Schmidt, told the YES Network. “Everybody’s leaning on each other. We know that the next person is going to do their job if you don’t get yours done. It’s just really exciting, really fun to be a part of. The clubhouse has a very good vibe right now.”

It’s also important for the romance between Juan Soto and the Yankees to grow deep roots as quickly as possible. So far, he has been worth every penny of his one-year, $31 million contract. The 25-year-old right fielder collected nine hits in the first five games, including one double and one home run. He walked five times and drove in four runs. He also threw out a runner at home plate at Houston, and notched a nifty catch last night. 

An instant bond between the Yankees and  Mr. Soto and his greater comfort in wearing pinstripes could go a long way in convincing both sides to come to terms on a multi-year deal.

“This is the kind of start I wanted,” Mr. Soto told YES. “I grind really hard this offseason and spring training to be successful at the beginning of the season and thank God it’s happening.”

The Yankees went to Arizona unbeaten despite a slow start from center fielder Aaron Judge, who had just three hits and no home runs in his first 21 at-bats. Designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton also has just three hits with one home run and an RBI.

Third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera and shortstop Anthony Volpe are picking up the slack, combining for 16 hits, three home runs, and 10 runs batted in.  Mr. Volpe had the first four-hit game of his career in the series opener against the Diamondbacks.

“One through nine it feels like we’ve got length and depth everywhere,” the left fielder, Alex Verdugo, told YES. “We’ve got guys working counts, swinging at good pitches, taking walks, getting the next guy up, we’ve always got traffic and that’s something good to see.”

In contrast, the Mets’ first week of the season has seen their  worst nightmare come to life. Owner Steve Cohen has asked the Mets fan base to be patient until the club becomes a serious contender, but that patience is already being tested.

The Mets went into Tuesday’s game against Detroit hitting just .188 as a team, with 25 hits and only eight runs scored. All three are National League lows. Like the Yankees, the Mets are trying to endure an injury to their ace. Right-hander Kodai Senga is out with a strained right shoulder. The Mets also await the arrival of designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who signed a one-year, $12 million contract at the end of spring training.

Entering Tuesday night’s game, Mr. Mendoza has more suspensions than wins. He sat out the series finale against the Brewers as part of Major League Baseball’s suspension of pitcher Yoham Ramirez for throwing behind Milwaukee’s Rhys Hoskins in the previous game. “We’ve just got to keep the vibes in a very good place,” Mr. Lindor said. “It’s about everybody pulling in the same direction. Everybody’s working toward the same goal.”

At some point, if the losses continue to mount, the Mets could decide that the postseason is a long shot and it’s time to trade their star first baseman, Pete Alonso, who is in the final year of his contract. That will come sooner rather than later if the Mets cannot right their listing ship.

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