Think of it in seismic terms: matter versus anti-matter, the Yankees home run-hitting monolith against the Mets’ air-tight pitching staff. The war from 60 feet, six inches has been waged for generations, but this one, in particular, might be compelling enough to make New York stand still for a weekend.
If nothing else, it’s the perfect litmus test for two teams that are more than on a roll — they’ve been surreal.
The Mets just finished off a sweep of the Orioles that was breathtaking for their fans and unsettling for the rest of the National League. The respected Baltimore offense — sixth-ranked in the American League — didn’t score its first run until the 26th inning of the three-game series. That snapped a streak of 29 scoreless innings by Mets’ pitchers, who are atop the NL this month with a 2.86 ERA.
So what could be a better stress-test than to pit the Mets’ arms against a lineup that’s driven by its obsession with home runs? The Yankees lead the majors with 105 HRs, including the four they blasted against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon. The Bombers are currently on a pace to finish with 260 homers, just shy of the single-season all-time record (264), set by the Mariners in 1997.
Of course, it’s fair to say the Yankees are taking full advantage of their launching-pad stadium. For whatever reason, the ballpark’s aerodynamics seem ready to turn every fly ball into potential fence-clearing blast. In 2009, when the new ballpark first opened, meteorologists theorized that wind currents were affected by the presence of the old stadium next door. Not surprisingly, the Yankees found themselves playing in the majors’ No. 1 venue for home run park-factor.
The conditions have calmed down somewhat, now that the old structure was finally demolished. The stadium slipped to No. 3 in HR park factor in 2010, and fell again to No. 4 in 2011. And, surprisingly, the ballpark is only 10th this year.
But every once in a while Yankee Stadium turns in a driving range again, as it did in the Bombers’ 10-5 loss to Atlanta. A total of nine home runs were hit, a record for the new ballpark. Even though the Yankees lost, their long-ball machinery is humming at a terrifying clip.
But that’s still not enough to unsettle the Mets, who are teeming with confidence after shutting down the Orioles. In fact, manager Terry Collins was bold enough to tweak the Yankees, who’ll not only be without their designated hitter all weekend in Flushing, but their secondary asset, as well — Yankee Stadium.
“Our ballpark plays a little bit differently than theirs,” Collins said, later adding, “Yankee Stadium is a great place for their team and their fans; there’s a lot of home runs hit. They can hit them out of here, too; it’s just not quite as easy as it is over there.”
That might be the Mets’ best hope of deconstructing the Yankees’ offense — taking away the long ball factor. The Bombers’ reliance on muscle has reached Biblical proportions this year: They’re 40-13 in games they’ve gone deep and are an even more impressive 29-5 in multi-homer games.
But what happens when the Yankees have to score runs in less imperial fashion? Turns out building rallies step by step — hitting with runners in scoring position — is actually the Bombers’ fatal flaw. They’re batting .218 with RISP, which ranks 27th in the majors.
Joe Girardi admits he has “no explanation” for the dropoff, only that, “(the struggle) will even itself out over time.” But one talent evaluator believes there are two reasons why the Yankees tend to be more vulnerable away from the Bronx.
The first is the swing-for-the-planets mentality. “I don’t see much situational hitting in that lineup,” said the scout. “It’s like they’ve all fallen in love with home runs, which I guess is understandable.”
The other area of concern is Alex Rodriguez, whose decline continues to sap the middle of the order. It’s not just that A-Rod has stopped hitting home runs; he’s no longer even a gap threat.
Rodriguez has only six doubles this year and just one this month. That regression is reflected in an OPS that has fallen each season from 1.067 in 2006 to .965 to .933 to .847 to .823 to .780 this year.
“There is a big gap between where (A-Rod) should be and where he is right now,” Yankees’ hitting coach Kevin Long told Joel Sherman of the New York Post, later adding, “as it stands now, those are alarming numbers.”
In the same conversation, Long admitted A-Rod is no longer a credible threat to hit 40 home runs a year; 30 has become the new normal.
Yet, there’s hardly any panic around the Yankees, either about A-Rod’s metamorphosis into a singles hitter or the imbalance in their run-production. After all, the Bombers have the best record in the American League and recently ran off a 10-game winning streak that finally put them in the same strata as the Rangers.
That’s the storyline of this weekend’s showdown at Citi Field, where the irresistible force meets the unmovable object. And talk about dream theater, R.A. Dickey will be facing CC Sabathia on Sunday night.
That’s why for all his bravado, Collins is fully aware of the damage the Yankees can do. The Mets were swept two weeks ago in the Bronx and the manager is indeed wary once you drill down a few layers, past the hype.
“They’re playing great, as I know, but it’s a great challenge,” Collins said. “With the guys (they’re) throwing at us, our guys are going to have to step up.”