We are obligated to mention here that the season is very long, and that it is still April, though it felt like summer on Friday, as soon as the Mets left town. Yet it was not easy to see this coming. The Mets admirably claimed a wild card last summer despite a merciless string of injuries. The Yankees traded veterans and made a stronger commitment to youth than they had in decades.
The Mets were the team of today, the Yankees the team of tomorrow. It was a convenient story line rooted in the expectations of the teams’ front offices — but, of course, there was room for surprises.
What if, for example, the Mets just kept getting hurt? What if their offense became the worst version of itself, helpless to do anything but hit home runs? And what if the Yankees’ veteran position players started strong while the younger ones thrived? What if the shaky rotation was sturdy enough to keep the dominant bullpen fresh?
We know the early answers to those questions — and the most surprising is the strength of the Yankees’ pitching. The team’s 2.90 E.R.A. was the lowest in the majors at the start of play on Friday, as was the .214 opponents’ average. The Yankees’ bullpen had thrown just 53 ⅔ innings, the fewest in the majors, because the starters had been so productive.
“It’s not going to be like that every night, but that’s what you need to have a winning team,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “You have to have a good starting rotation, because everything falls in line when that happens. You get consistent, good outings from your starters, your bullpen’s going to be fresh.”
The other surprise has been the offensive thunder without Gary Sanchez, who has been out since April 8 with a biceps strain, and Didi Gregorius, who made his season debut Friday after a shoulder strain. The Yankees had the majors’ best run differential, at plus-35, before Friday.
They could not have counted on Chase Headley and Aaron Hicks hitting well above .300, or Castro to be hitting .361. They hoped Judge would be more than the meager hitter who struck out in half his at-bats late last summer, and he is.
Only Milwaukee’s Eric Thames has more homers than Judge, who has nine to go with a .282 average. Just six Yankees have hit nine homers through the team’s first 21 games: Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Graig Nettles, Alex Rodriguez and Judge.
“He can do things that I haven’t seen, and I’ve played a long time,” said Holliday, a 14-year veteran, adding that he might be overstating it, since he had played against Barry Bonds. “But as far as raw talent goes, that dude is massive. He’s athletic. He can play defense. He runs the bases. And he’s a fantastic kid. I’m a huge fan. I love watching him play.”
Judge also gives the Yankees something the Mets had all but monopolized: a genuine headliner. For the Mets, Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard command your attention. Judge has the name, the size and the strength to do the same for the Yankees, a star-driven enterprise that needs players fans will talk about and pay to see.
Perhaps there are more in pinstripes now. Sanchez hit 20 home runs in 53 games last season, and Luis Severino again looks like the kind of starter who belongs in the class of the Mets’ young aces. After a ghastly 2016, Severino has 33 strikeouts and four walks in 27 innings, holding opponents to a .175 average.
“It’s command of his fastball,” Manager Joe Girardi said. “I think his slider has had more depth and has been more consistent at times. I think it ran into somewhat of a cutter last year; he was kind of throwing through it. And his changeup has improved. Those are the three differences for him.”
The Yankees are also whole again, a state the Mets never quite seem to achieve. Cespedes is on the disabled list after aggravating a hamstring injury. Syndergaard missed a start on Thursday with a sore arm, yet refused the Mets’ request to have a magnetic resonance imaging test.
So it goes with the Mets, who must be exhausted, deep down, by the constant, almost chronic drumbeat of injuries that stalk their roster. This may be the Mets’ moment, but it sure seems painful — and the Yankees just might steal it.