This is how May began in New York City: With the Mets and Yankees both in first place, tied for the most victories in baseball with 16. The old song says it’s not where you start but where you finish. But for both New York teams, this is a better start than anybody could have expected. Much better.
Now things get even better for both New York teams. The Yankees went from Kansas City to Toronto for a three-game series against the Blue Jays, who are right behind them in the AL East, and a team many people think is capable of winning it all this season. The Mets? They’re at home for four games against the Braves, the team that did win it all last season.
In the words of Mets manager Buck Showalter: “Buckle up.”
And here is what Aaron Judge told the media on Sunday after hitting two more home runs, one of them a moonshot that traveled 453 feet, bringing his season total to eight:
“I know in years past, we kind of scuffled out of the gates in April and then all we’re trying to do is climb back and fight back. Getting an early lead like this, we’ll try to maintain and grow it through the year is gonna be big for us — especially with the type of team we have and the division we’re in.”
Anthony Rizzo was terrific in April, hitting an MLB-best nine home runs, and there were times when he was the one carrying the Yankee’ offense. But if the Yankees are going to make it back to the top of the AL East and make the kind of deep postseason run they made in 2017 and ’19, Judge has to be the one to carry them, and do that in the last year of his current contract.
The Mets have been a show from the jump, from their first series in Washington, when they won three out of four and nearly swept the Nationals and showed some fight when they all came out of the dugout, led by their manager, after they were already tired of Mets hitters getting hit by pitches. That hasn’t stopped, by the way. The Phillies hit Francisco Lindor near the end of the Mets’ 10-6 win Sunday night, and before you knew it, Kyle Schwarber’s feet were moving on two straight pitches from Yoan López, and López was then throwing a changeup that hit Alec Bohm. So the Mets still aren’t backing down.
And they are not just getting hit. They are hitting, and opportunistically. Dominic Smith, acting very much like a man who wants to guarantee that he doesn’t get sent down to Triple-A Syracuse (he has options) when the rosters are cut down to 26 on Monday, had four hits on Sunday night, including a huge single up the middle against left-hander José Alvarado. Jeff McNeil, who is back to hitting the way he did every season for the Mets until last year, had four hits of his own in the same game, bringing his average to .361.
And they have pitched; man, have they pitched, without Jacob deGrom. After they gave Max Scherzer no run support in St. Louis after he pitched seven brilliant shutout innings against the Cardinals, they backed him up big-time on a night when Scherzer gave up three homers, two to Schwarber and one to Bryce Harper.
By then, the Yankees had already swept the Royals with those two home runs from Judge and with their bullpen stepping up once again. Michael King, whose ERA is down to a barely visible 0.61, did the job again, coming in with two men on after the Yankees had taken the lead in the top of the seventh, and getting Salvador Perez to hit into a 5-4-3 double play. You want to know how good the Yankees’ bullpen has been? Clarke Schmidt got the win on Sunday, in a game when his own ERA dropped to 1.08. And got sent out, at least for now.
The Yankees are catching the ball so much better this season, starting on the left side of their infield, where Josh Donaldson is now at third and Isiah Kiner-Falefa is at short. And after some very sketchy starts, Gerrit Cole has once again looked like the ace that he is supposed to be and the Yankees need him to be. After his first three starts, Cole’s ERA was 6.35. It is down to 3.00 now, and his record is 2-0.
The Yankees’ nine-game winning streak came against teams who currently have a combined record of 25-39. Now they go play a big-boy-pants series against the Blue Jays, who are 1 1/2 games behind them. The Mets get the Braves for four, then go to Philly next weekend. Still: As of Sunday night, baseball New York was first-place New York, at the same time the Dodgers and Angels are both in first on the other side of the country. All this after just the first month. Buck’s right. Buckle up.