With talk earlier this year about this possibly being the best New York baseball season ever, it had seemed clear that there was at least a small divide between the city’s major league teams.
The Yankees were still the big dogs, and while the Mets were having a great season, they seemed less threatening.
After the games of July 23, just a bit more than two weeks ago, the Yankees were 65-31 and battling the Los Angeles Dodgers for baseball’s best record. The Mets were a creditable 58-37, putting them six and a half games behind their crosstown rivals and just a half-game ahead of rival Atlanta in the National League East.
Things changed in a hurry. Since then, the Mets are 15-2 and the Yankees, entering Wednesday’s game in Seattle, were 6-9. That had put the Mets on top, at least for now. With Wednesday’s 10-2 win over Cincinnati at Citi Field, the Mets improved to 73-39, one and a half games better than the 71-40 Yankees. The Mets have also taken over the No. 2 record in the majors, behind the Dodgers, who are still flying high, with a 76-33 record ahead of Wednesday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins.
Perhaps most important, the Mets have opened a wide lead over Atlanta.
The current hot streak began with a win over the San Diego Padres on July 24, but it took shape over the next two games, when the Mets hosted the Yankees for the first Subway Series of the season and came away with a two-game sweep.
“It was honestly like a World Series home run,” Eduardo Escobar told reporters after his two-run homer in the first inning helped lead the Mets to a 6-3 win in the first game. “I’ve never played in an environment like that.”
A Starling Marte walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning of the second game completed the sweep a day later.
The wins seemed to launch the Mets, and the momentum has kept going from there: a sweep of Miami, two of three from Washington and then a crucial four of five from Atlanta that widened their division lead. Wednesday’s win gave them a three-game sweep of the Reds. After an off-day on Thursday, the Mets will host the Philadelphia Phillies for a three-game series at Citi Field.
The Mets have shown excellence on both sides of the diamond: They are in the top four in the majors in runs per game and runs allowed per game. (Unsurprisingly, the Yankees and Dodgers are, too.)
The Mets have been helped along the way by the return of Jacob deGrom from injury. He took a loss in his first game back, although he gave up just one run in five innings, then he struck out 12 in a 5-2 win Sunday over Atlanta, earning his first victory in more than a year. Max Scherzer, the team’s other ace, is 3-0 during the hot run, surrendering just two earned runs in three starts. And closer Edwin Díaz, who has been shredding the league with a 52.9 percent strikeout rate, saved six of the 14 wins.
On offense, the Mets have done it with depth. Only one regular starter, first baseman Pete Alonso, has an on-base plus slugging percentage above .900, but nearly everyone is chipping in. And five of Alonso’s team-high 29 homers have come during the current run.
Despite the hot streak, there are a few concerning signs. The Mets weren’t exactly blowing teams out: Thirteen of the 15 wins in their run were by four runs or fewer. Though the Yankees had won only six games in that span, three of them were by six runs and two by five.
This follows a season-long pattern. The Yankees had a run differential of plus-205 ahead of Wednesday’s game, behind only the Dodgers, who were at plus-233. The Mets are plus-127. That is a good total, and a win is a win, but the huge scoring margins of the Dodgers and the Yankees could well be an indication that they can reach a higher gear.
In any case, the Mets led the N.L. East by seven and a half games ahead of Atlanta’s game on Wednesday, and the Yankees were up in their division by 10½ games over Toronto. FanGraphs gives both New York teams a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs. So besides bragging rights, not much is on the line for which team winds up with the best record.
And yet … best regular-season record does determine home-field advantage in the World Series. There’s a long way to go, and a lot would have to break right, but if there should be the first Subway Series since 2000, every regular-season game might actually matter.