Three NL East contenders and one banged up Bronx Bombers squad take the field today in an ESPN Sunday doubleheader.
First up, the New York Mets and New York Yankees clash in the Bronx (4 p.m. ET on ESPN2) in Game 2 of their second twin bill in three days following the derailment of last weekend’s Subway Series due to COVID-19. Then, it’s Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Atlanta Braves against Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park (7 p.m. ET on ESPN).
We asked national baseball writers David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle three questions about the four teams — and their October outlooks — in advance of the games.
Which of these NL East teams (Braves, Mets, Phillies) would be most dangerous in the first round of the playoffs?
David Schoenfield: The Mets. They have Jacob deGrom, and nobody else does, so if he starts and wins the opener, the other team then has to win two in a row. For all the flaws of the Mets — all the other starting pitchers, the bullpen (again), the defense — they are dangerous at the plate, entering the weekend leading the NL in batting average and OBP. Dominic Smith has been a revelation, and Robinson Cano is raking as well.
Bradford Doolittle: The Mets’ offense has turned out to be as good as I thought, and Dom Smith has turned out to be as good a replacement for Yoenis Cespedes as I thought, but somehow, the Mets continue to be less than the sum of their parts. But still, if you need two wins to advance and you get to start Jacob deGrom in one of those games, you are a dangerous team.
The Yankees’ injuries continue to mount. Are they too banged up to make an October run?
Schoenfield: It’s too early to make that call, as all those guys are supposed to be back by October. Still, the Yankees aren’t lining themselves up for a high seed, which means a potentially tough best-of-three series against the Astros, Indians or Twins. Another concern: Gerrit Cole is giving up a lot of home runs — 10 in 41 innings. He isn’t giving up too many other hits, and he’s still missing a lot of bats, and if the AL playoffs are held in California (Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium or Petco Park), that will help, as those parks are all more pitcher-friendly than Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees would like to see Cole get in a better groove. That said: There is a lot of talent here. The Yankees can win it all, but they aren’t the AL favorites they were at the start of the season.
Doolittle: The talent baseline — from both a depth and a quality standpoint — remains high. But the lack of continuity because of injuries is maddening, especially because so many of the injuries are soft-tissue mishaps. Still, there is time for this roster to get mostly healthy by October, and if the Yankees end up with a 5- or 6-seed because they sputter and the Rays win the AL East, there could be a division champ with an awfully tough first-round opponent, including a matchup against Cole in Game 1. The Yankees’ path isn’t an easy one, but there’s no reason to think they can’t get to where they want to go.
Pick an ace for a win-or-go-home playoff game: Gerrit Cole or Jacob deGrom.
Schoenfield: Based on all those home runs Cole has allowed, right now I go with deGrom. The home runs could be a blip, but deGrom’s consistent dominance this year makes him the guy. He has yet to allow more than two runs in a start, though it’s worth noting that he has pitched more than six innings just once and has had a couple of his starts pushed. Let’s see if Mets manager Luis Rojas starts pushing him a little harder in September.
Doolittle: Cole’s stuff — relatively speaking — hasn’t been quite as good this year, with Statcast indicating mild declines in both velocity and spin rate. Meanwhile, his barrel rate has nearly doubled over 2019, hence all those gopher balls. On the other hand, deGrom’s stuff has somehow become even filthier, with his average four-seam velocity climbing over 98 mph. Even though the Mets don’t win for him, his results back up the physics. I don’t know that there is another pitcher in baseball I’d rather have in a must-win game than deGrom right now.