This has been a remarkable baseball season around town. But will it end up being a historic one? The next three or so months will decide that.
The Yankees can more or less go through the motions — save Thursday’s doubleheader with the Astros and the Subway Series games — the rest of the way. They are running away with the AL East and will make the postseason. The Mets will too, although they still have some work to do atop the NL East. And both teams still have things to figure out with their rosters.
Here are eight local questions as the season resumes following the All-Star break:
Will Juan Soto find his way to New York? The Nationals have made Soto available after their latest contract offer was turned down. Will they push to move him this season? There may not be enough time to pull off such a complicated deal, especially with the franchise up for sale and potential buyers being vetted.
Whenever Soto does get traded, the Mets and Yankees are expected to be contenders for his services. It will cost either team the farm — literally. But they each would have motivation to get Soto if they can get over the sticker shock of dealing away all their top prospects. The Yankees would have a chance to commit to a younger star and potentially make Aaron Judge expendable. But that would mean owner Hal Steinbrenner has to write a $500 million check at some point. The Mets would just be doing business the way owner Steve Cohen likes (and getting a much-needed bat). Soto’s arrival on either side of town this summer would make his new team the clear World Series favorite. And no matter what, they would get Soto for 2-3 pennant races.
What will happen at the deadline? The Yankees could use another starting pitcher and maybe a bat. But there is a reasonable chance general manager Brian Cashman could stand pat. He did in 1998 and it paid off, but that team’s core had already won a title. This one has not. The Mets will definitely be active. They need a bat, bullpen help and potentially a starter. If there is going to be a blockbuster move made, it’s going to be in Queens.
Will Yankees have to sweat Astros all the way? The Bombers have fallen off the 116-win pace. But they’re still on track to break 110 wins. Which they have done twice in franchise history (1927 and 1998) and has only been done six times ever (the 2001 Mariners were the last team). That said, the Astros are only four games back of them in the loss column headed into this doubleheader while playing in a weaker division. So as crazy as it sounds, the Yankees may find themselves fighting for home field advantage in the AL until the very end. And that means something given how Houston has had (and continues to have) its number.
How will Yankees impact the rest of the AL races? This weekend’s series in Baltimore does not mean much to the Yankees, but it could be a defining moment for the rest of the league. The Orioles are 3.5 games back of the Blue Jays for the last wild card after winning 11 of their final 13 before the break. If they can tread water (or better) in their next seven games (three with the Yankees, four with the wild card-leading Rays, all at home) you have to imagine they will go for it. Especially with nine straight games against the Pirates, Rangers and Reds after that.
The Mariners (currently the second wild card team) play six of their first 20 games after the break against the Yankees (and 13 of 20 against them and the Astros). They still have nine games apiece against the Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox. The Yankees likely won’t have much impact on the AL Central race; they have a four-game set with the Twins in September but are done playing the Guardians and White Sox.
Can Mets keep Braves at bay? The two teams will see each other 12 more times the rest of the way, including a five-game series at Citi Field that will likely end up deciding the NL East. The Mets have a 2.5-game lead and momentum after their series win in Atlanta. They also have a slightly weaker schedule the rest of the way. But if they cannot beat the Braves head-to-head, that won’t matter much.
Jacob deGrom? We’ll see how he comes through Thursday’s simulated game. If all is well there, his season debut should be the next step. But that will not end the questions. The Mets have to hope they can get two starts out of deGrom before the trade deadline to see where he is, then hope he stays healthy.
DeGrom is the best pitcher in baseball when he is on. But he hasn’t pitched in a big league game for over a year and he’s barely pitched in the last two seasons. If deGrom is deGrom, the Mets are built to win the World Series with him and Max Scherzer taking over a series. But if he isn’t, the Amazins face an uphill climb to a championship. They’ve made do so far, but it will be far more difficult in October.
What will Aaron Judge do in what may be his final days as a Yankee? Assuming his recent mini-slump is behind him, Judge has a chance to chase 62 home runs. And as long as he stays healthy, he will maintain the payday he has secured for himself with this sensational contract year. But will that come with the Yankees? Your guess is as good as ours. It feels like the Soto news returned some leverage to the Bombers, but that could snap right back. And Judge keeps sending out mixed signals. What is clear: If he leads the Yankees to a title, it will be very hard for them to let him get away.
How much more Joey Gallo? If the Yankees were going to designate Gallo and his .164 batting average for assignment, they would have done it a long time ago. That’s not going to happen. But it also seems unlikely they will let him anywhere near the postseason roster.
Gallo’s agent, Scott Boras, says there are teams that believe Gallo would be closer to his past form if he was in a more-comfortable market. The Yankees should do everything they can to trade him and end a union that is nothing but agony for both sides. But after they’ve been so stubborn in continually playing him, will they ask for too much in a deal? If so, Gallo may need to play out the string here. Which would be rough for everyone.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]