By Jason Keidel
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We've long known the yearly Yankees mantra: World Series or bust.
We also know a title is not going to happen this year. So ...
While it's taken some adjusting over the last few years, perhaps beyond your eyes' power of correction, the truth is these aren't your daddy's Yankees anymore. No more can they pillage, plunder and poach the enemy's best player and leave as Las Vegas favorites to win the World Series.
With lucrative, local cable deals sprouting up like weeds across the MLB map, the Yankees just can't wield their wallets and expect to start every season as the unquestioned chalk. Which leaves the Yankees an incongruous 25-to-1 shot to win the World Series, according to Westgate.
Every April the Yankees used to bound out of Florida, fly north and unveil the shiny new toys they bought during the winter. Some slugger at first base, like Tino Martinez or Jason Giambi. Perhaps a new pitcher, like Roger Clemens or El Duque. Perhaps an outfielder, like Gary Sheffield or Hideki Matsui. A fresh new third baseman like A-Rod.
Those days are long gone. The Yankees may not be able to buy championships -- not that they ever did, aside from 2009 -- but they cut some fat, traded some high-end talent and spread some seed across what's now the most fertile farm system in the game, ranked first in MLB, according to an extensive study by Bleacher Report. Kudos to beleaguered general manager Brian Cashman, who gets no credit when the club wins and all the blame when they lose. The Yankees are not quite ready for prime time, as they smooth the fur of their young colts and address the ultimate baseball axiom: Pitching wins championships.
We know the Yankees have a decent lineup, if healthy, and a nuclear bullpen that will shut an iron door down after the seventh inning. They just don't have nearly enough starting arms to get them the ball.
Masahiro Tanaka. CC Sabathia. Michael Pineda. Luis Severino. Hardly a murderer's row of pitching. More precisely, hardly the Boston Red Sox, who have the best rotation in the American League, by far. And, if healthy, could stretch a nice lead over the Bombers by July 4. That's to say nothing of the Orioles and Blue Jays, both of whom have seen more success lately than the Yanks. All of them have some serious lumber, and if the Yankees' pitching underperforms or has the slightest case of the injury bug, it could be a long, sweaty summer on River Avenue.
The 2016 season quickly morphed into the Gary Sanchez show, a more modern form of home run derby. Which deflected from the fact that the Yankees missed the playoffs -- again -- as a fourth-place team with a pedestrian 84-78 record. So it begs the question, do the Yankees need to reach the playoffs for 2017 to be a success? Maybe it's a watered-down standard from the old days of King George, but when you consider the cash, cachet and history of the Yankees, it's not unreasonable to expect a few games in long sleeves.
Then we have other side of the Big Apple coin ...
The Mets have been in the atypical spot the last few years as the true toast of Big Apple baseball. Reaching the World Series in 2015, then qualifying for the playoffs last year -- a bitter wild-card defeat to the forever pesky Giants -- has put the Mets on the back page, bogarting the bold ink from their eternal tormenters from the Bronx.
The Yankees' clear chasm is the Mets' strength: pitching. The Mets have more of it than anyone. And the best kind. Good, young, cheap arms. More than good. Sublime. The Mets' rotation is the envy of the sport, a conveyer belt of 20-somethings who throw gas. And unlike the Yankees, whose season hangs on the once-torn elbow of Tanaka, the Mets can lose Matt Harvey and still trot out Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. And if Harvey returns to 2014 form in 2017, then the Mets will win 90-plus games by default. Which leaves the Amazins twice as likely to win the World Series, a 12-to-1 shot, according to Westgate.
Middle relief could be better, and Jeurys Familia is either the best reliever in the game or a pitching powder keg, depending on the night, week, or month. But when you got a gaggle of pitchers who can sling a ball 95 mph or better for six to seven innings, it makes even your ugliest bullpen pitchers look like Scarlett Johansson.
The Mets will have to score more runs. They finished 2016 ranked 12th out of 15 National League teams in runs scored, 12th in hits, 12th with a paltry .246 batting average and 12th in on-base percentage. The only place where they finished in the money was the flashy stat of home runs, finishing second with 218. But considering they were 11th in RBIs, it speaks to how few runners were on base when they hit them. As good and glittering as the rotation is -- ranked second in the NL, according to USA Today -- they can't put the same pressure on them this season.
They don't have a Gary Sanchez. They do have a Yoenis Cespedes, who's already a beast, yet still arrived at spring training early and is, by all accounts, in the best shape of his life. He had a slight faux pas when pining for the NL MVP in March, then moonwalked from his remarks and made it all about the team. Baseball is odd like that, where statistical narcissism is actually good for the club. The Mets will hardly gripe if he obsesses over 40 home runs and 125 RBIs.
And we can put to bed the Terry Collins can't manage in the majors gibberish. Maybe he has some head-scratchers, but the man has been in the sport for about 50 years and has forgotten more baseball than any of us will ever learn.
So maybe the Mets and Yankees aren't heavy favorites to win or reach the World Series, but the Mets have a valid shot, and if the ball bounces the right way, we could have two teams playing vital games deep into September. And maybe one club deep into October.
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