By Matt Straub
As I found out last year, picking baseball playoff series can be incredibly difficult. Picking one game in baseball is nearly impossible. So I won’t start making picks until we have the Division Series set, but I can already tell you some of the big picture storylines for both the New York Yankees and New York Mets which will have the greatest impact on the postseason. We’ll get into Mets-Dodgers in the days ahead and the Yankees’ hopes if they win tonight, but first let’s look at what this month could mean to some big names in New York and how the teams should try and situate themselves for success.
Stay in rotation: With the shocking news of CC Sabathia’s need to go to rehab, the Yankees' rotation is even more uncertain. I don’t believe they’ll let Adam Warren leave the bullpen, where they could really use him in the middle innings. That likely means Ivan Nova in a playoff game. While there are worse pitchers in baseball, Nova isn’t exactly who you want pitching Game 4 of a five-game series. The other option involves short rest, but with Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow the way it is and Luis Severino being young, I don’t like that plan. I know Sabathia struggled this year, but he’s the guy I’d want out there in a big spot. I’d trust him to gut me through five innings and hand the ball to Warren with a chance to win.
On the other side of the city, the Mets are facing their own issues involving Game 4. If they’re behind 2-1 against the Dodgers they will bring Jacob deGrom back on short rest, which is scary asking him to do something he’s never done before with the season on the line. If Steven Matz is healthy he’ll pitch. Matz has been good, but I don’t get why he’s such a certainty here. He has six games pitched in the majors. He has thrown 35 more major league innings than I have. Yes they’ve been good innings, but why are the Mets so sure he’s ready for a big spot? I’d rather have Bartolo Colon, who was really good over the last two months and has a veteran presence.
More important, this playoff series will be crucial for the Mets’ young arms for a number of reasons. First off, they aren’t as young as people think, and there won’t be a ton of chances for this group. Surely this won’t be the only foray into the postseason for this group, but the Mets can’t afford to act as though they have 10 more shots at a World Series with their aces. deGrom is already 27 and Matt Harvey is just counting the days until he can be a Yankee or Dodger. Secondly, this year will help start the narrative under which the staff will be viewed in years to come. It doesn’t take many bad playoff games before you start getting the label of choke artist and get even more pressure in the playoffs. Just ask Clayton Kershaw.
New Era game: You see those New Era signs in Yankee Stadium frequently and they sponsor the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. But now they serve as a theme for the Yankees. Think about this playoff run, whether it ends tonight or next month for the Yankees. It won’t have CC, Derek Jeter, or Mark Teixeira. Robbie Cano is gone. Curtis Granderson is in the playoffs, but for the Mets. There are just two players, A-Rod and Brett Gardner, left from the last Yankees playoff game in 2012. Yes, some of that is due to injury and CC’s situation, but it is remarkable. In a way, this could be good for the Yankees, who have a number of good young players who will get their first chance to become part of Yankees lore. At the very least, they get to see the atmosphere created by old friends Mystique and Aura.
A-Rod’s moment: Alex Rodriguez has had a wonderful bounce back year and has done and said all the right things off the field. He has morphed into a veteran leader who appears from the outside to be liked by his current teammates. With so many changes to the roster listed above, Rodriguez has a chance tonight and this month to completely change the way his Yankees’ career is viewed. If he can help carry this group to glory, he becomes a great Yankees champion.
Wright time: The same can be said of David Wright for the Mets. He has a much different history in New York, but his career right now is noted for playoff collapses, not titles. If he’s the captain of a world champion, his place in New York sports history becomes much different. The pitchers have a lot of time left, but Wright’s legacy might be defined this month.
Bouncing back: Both the Yankees and Mets struggled down the stretch of the regular season. The Mets for a time tried to let the Nationals back in the playoff race, even if Washington wouldn’t take them up on the offer. The Yankees took way too long to clinch home field tonight and let the Blue Jays pass them for the division lead. It’s time for both teams to make sure the regular season no longer matters. The Yankees have to win tonight for obvious reasons, while the Mets could greatly use a win in Game 1 to show they have righted the ship.