The Yankees are right on the heels of the Red Sox in the AL East, with a comfortable lead in the wild-card race to fall back on. The Mets are where they usually are at this point in the season – out of contention. With just over a month to go, here are the top five storylines for New York baseball fans to watch:
1) Yankees-Red Sox: Because of the wild card, both teams should make the playoffs, whether they beat out the other and finish first in the AL East or not. But these teams are bitter rivals and they’ll meet six times down the stretch. The Yankees have struggled against the Sox this year, losing 10 of 12 games, and when the teams meet this week at Fenway, the Yankees will send CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett to the hill. The three are a combined 0-6 (9.27 ERA) against Boston this year. It’s the biggest rivalry in baseball, and it will make for another interesting September in two of the best baseball cities in the country.
2) Mets Down the Stretch: The Mets are under .500 but that doesn’t matter. They’ve still had a remarkable season. Despite all the injuries and an average roster, Terry Collins has turned the Mets into an exciting team again, one that has been very watchable and easy to root for all year. Now he must keep the Mets afloat through the final five weeks to avoid a collapse that would put a damper on what up to this point has been a suprising resurgence in Queens, no matter what the record says. Jose Reyes returning, and playing for a contract, should help.
3) Yankees Starting Rotation: A.J. Burnett has been a disaster this year, and things appear to be getting worse. He was bombed in his last start in Baltimore, on the heels of his meltdown against the Twins. Burnett’s been a .500 pitcher throughout his career. This season he’s been worse. He’ll face Boston Thursday night in what may be his last start of the year. The Yankees are likely to trim their starting staff from six to five following the Boston series, and if you base things on merit, Burnett should be the odd man out. Hughes, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia have been more consistent than Burnett, and they’re more reliable at this point. Do the Yankees send Burnett, and his $82.5 million to the bullpen? They have to.
4) Jose Reyes: They’re already talking about the “Reyes Rules” as Jose returns from his second stint on the DL. Hamstring injuries aside, he’s had an MVP season and a batting title is a possibility. Before Reyes, and the Mets, can think about what happens when he becomes a free agent after the season, Reyes must have a strong finish, not only to convince the Mets brass – and other teams – that he’s healthy, but to help keep the Amazins headed in the right direction. Reyes is must-see TV, even on a team out of contention. That’s good news for everyone involved.
5) Derek Jeter: It turns out that getting his 3,000th career hit will not be the most talked about part of Jeter’s season. Instead, the fact that his average is close to the .300 mark is one of the top MLB stories this year. After his average dropped to .270 last year, and sank even lower at the start of this season, many wrote him off. Not so fast. Jeter is getting more hits, he’s hitting the ball harder, and we all know what he’s done when the games matter most. It’s never about indvidual accomplishments for the Yankee captain, but wouldn’t it be something if he finishes the season hitting at or above .300?
Charles Costello is the host of “Sports Talk New York” on Blog Talk Radio.
Mark Feinsand, New York Daily News: A.J. will start in Boston, but after that, we’ll see
David Lennon, Newsday: Collins plans on rest for Reyes