BASEBALL IS ONCE AGAIN RELEVANT IN NEW YORK CITY

Fans in the Big Apple are once again excited about major league baseball, for both of the New York teams are leading their respective division and the electricity can be felt in both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

The Yankees lead the American League East by six games with nine weeks left in the season. Their closest competitor, the Toronto Blue Jays, made significant additions to their roster, so the Bronx Bombers will be severely challenged in August and September.

Leading the way for the Yankees are two sluggers who will probably battle each other for the “Comeback Player of the Year” award. Alex Rodriguez, who missed all of 2014 due to a suspension, has come back with a flourish, batting .277 with 24 homers and 61 RBI. He is projected to his 32 homers and drive in 90…his best totals since 2010. Teixeira, coming off a career-low .216 batting average, is healthy once again and has already clubbed 29 homers and driven in 74 runs. He is expected to hit 39 homers, at his current pace; that would be his most since 2009…the last year the Yankees won the World Series.

General Manager Brian Cashman elected not to acquire any players during the trading fury over the past couple of weeks. That was a little surprising, since manager Joe Girardi’s starting rotation is bland, at best. Right now, the ace of the rotation is none other than Nathan Eovaldi who, prior to this year, had won only six games as his season-high. So far this year, Eovaldi is 11-2 with a 4.30 ERA. Former ace C.C. Sabathia is really showing his age, going only 4-8 so far with a bloated 5.54 ERA. The 35-year-old lefty has seen better days…he has allowed 16 earned runs in his last three starts.

Both Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova have shaken off early-season injuries and hope to turn in better quality starts the rest of the way. Michael Pineda, who has struggled with injuries since being acquired by the Yankees in January 2012, is back on the disabled list with a forearm flexor muscle strain. Pineda missed all of 2012 and made only 10 minor league starts in 2013. The good thing for the Yankees is that Pineda is only 26.

If the starters can get the game into the seventh inning, or so, a pretty solid bullpen, led by Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, can bring it home. Betances has already appeared in 48 games this year, after strolling in from the bullpen 70 times in 2014. He is 6-2 with a 1.32 ERA and a WHIP of 0.82. Miller, a former starter-turned closer, has saved 23 of 23 games and has a WHIP of 0.72. These two could keep the Yankees afloat until help arrives, either through a wavier-wire deal or September call-ups.

Meanwhile, over in Flushing, the Mets are enjoying their best season since 2006…the last time they went to the League Championship series. This past weekend, Shea Stadium (oops, I mean Citi Field) drew over 114,000 fans as the Metropolitans hung a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals and then, for good measure, thumped the Marlins, 12-1, Monday night to move into sole possession of first place in the NL East. This is the first time the Mets have been on top of a division this late into a season since September of  2008.

Whereas the Yankees are relying on offense, Mets manager Terry Collins has a solid corps of young starters to go along with their hitting. Spear-heading the rotation is Jacob deGrom (27), who is 10-6 with a 2.09 ERA and a WHIP of 0.89. Then comes Matt Harvey (26) who is 9-7 with a 2.91 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Lefty Jon Niese (28) and youngster Noah Syndergaard (22) are next in the rotation. Anchoring is 42-year-old veteran Bartolo Colon, who got off to a great start, but has regressed a bit…but is still 10-10 and is projected to “eat” 193 innings.

Great starters, all of them, but we haven’t even talked about Steven Matz (24) who is on the disabled list until September with a torn lat, and Zack Wheeler, who had Tommy John surgery and is out until 2016. With the pitchers that Collins has at his disposal, the Mets can afford to bring Wheeler along very slowly in hopes of a full recovery.

This recent crop of young starters remind veteran Mets fans of the 1969 “Miracle Mets” with a rotation of Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman or, more recently, the rotation that took the Mets to the World Series in 1986…Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Bobby Ojeda.

New York has the easier schedule that Washington during the stretch drive, but the Nationals will not go away any time soon. If, however, the current list of mashers like Lucas Duda (21 homers) Curtis Granderson (17) and newly-acquired Yoenis Cespedes can score a few runs for their starters, the Mets could very well be back in the playoffs, for the first time in nine years.

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