Friday, May 16, 2008


WITH THE YANKEES two games under .500 and the Mets just one game over, perhaps they should rename the first installment of this year’s Subway Series the Subpar Series.

Normally, the biannual contests between the two New York teams are eagerly anticipated by both sets of fans. But, right at the moment, anticipation has given way to apathy.

Even the most ardent supporter is finding few reasons to be cheerful. The Mets still seem to be suffering from the malaise that set in last September, when they blew the National League title and missed out on post-season baseball altogether.

They arrive at Yankee Stadium on the back of a 3-1 home series defeat against the last-placed Washington Nationals.

Yet, amazingly, the Mets find themselves in a better position than the Yankees. At least they’re only two-and-a-half games back in their division and they don’t have four teams, including the World Series-winning Red Sox, above them.

A 3-1 series defeat by this season’s surprise package, the Tampa Bay Rays, sent the Yanks slumping to the bottom of the American League East table.

First, it was problems with the starting rotation. Now they can’t hit their way out of a paper bag. Six runs in four games was the sum total of their offensive output at Tropicana Field, usually a happy hunting ground for their highly paid hitters.

Hank Steinbrenner’s stinging rebuke worked the oracle for one game – thanks to the miserly pitching of a rejuvenated Mike Mussina – but normal service was resumed yesterday, when they managed just three hits in six innings off ex-Mets prospect Scott Kazmir.

Yankee fans have become used to slow starts in recent seasons. It will all come right when A-Rod returns (hopefully, next Tuesday). But will it?

A-Rod wasn’t exactly setting the world alight before his quad injury. There is no timetable for the return of Jorge Posada, a man who gives the Yanks depth and balance in their line-up.

Yankees still don't have a settled starting rotation

There are too many question marks. Will Ian Kennedy and Kei Igawa continue to takes turns as the fifth starter, each outperforming the other in terms of runs conceded? Will Andy Pettitte ever pitch like a No. 2 starter. When will Phil Hughes return and will he ever fulfill his potential? Can we really expect Moose to continue to be this good? Is Darrell Rasner (2-0) another Aaron Small? Small appeared from nowhere to go 10-0 in 2005 before disappearing again, this time without trace.

With little or no runs to play with, the pitchers are under pressure from the very first inning. But while Robinson Cano has shown signs this week of emerging from his slump, Jason Giambi continues to hit like an old has-been.

Make that an overpaid old has-been. He’s reportedly earning $23.4 million in the final year of his contract, making him the second highest paid player in baseball behind, yes, you guessed it…A-Rod. That’s the price you pay for giving big-name players like Giambi and Johnny Damon ridiculously long contracts to lure them to your ball club in the first place.

Things are so bad that Giambi, according to The Daily News, will be wearing a gold lamé, tiger-striped thong against the Mets. “I only put it on when I’m desperate to get out of a big slump,” he explains.

The report claims he shares his underwear with slumping team-mates. Spot the Yankee hitter that isn’t wearing a thong this weekend.

And so to the Mets. Their big four of José Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltrán and Carlos Delgado are all batting well below .300.

This is a team built to coast to the pennant and go all the way to the World Series. So after last season’s pathetic collapse, it’s hardly surprising that some disgruntled fans are calling for the head of manager Willie Randolph.

Like Steinbrenner and the Yankees, they want to see more bang for their buck in terms of effort. And the manner of yesterday’s 1-0 defeat by the Nats has only added to their unrest.

So who’s under more pressure this weekend – Randolph and the Mets or Girardi and the Yankees?

I’d have to say Randolph and the Mets. Girardi is in his first season; he’s inherited a group of old players and he’s not been able to field a full-strength line-up the whole season.

Any defeat at any time against the Mets is unpalatable. But just imagine what the sports phone-in shows will sound like on Monday should Johan Santana fall short tonight and the Mets lose the series? 

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