When assessing managers, I'm always reminded of a quote attributed to Yogi Berra: "It ain't like football. You can't make up no trick plays." It does help, however, to make sure your team bats in the correct order.
The Mets and Yankees are meeting for three games this weekend at Citi Field, and their first Subway Series comes with the clubs spinning in opposite directions and some heat starting to fall on Mets manager Mickey Callaway. After the Yankees' 4-1 victory in the series opener Friday night, the Mets have lost seven games in a row, a stretch in which they've scored only eight runs. They haven't won two games in a row since May 20-21, falling from 24-19 and 2½ games out of first place to 27-33 and closer to the last-place Marlins than to the top of the division.
Meanwhile, Aaron Boone, Callaway's fellow rookie skipper, has helped engineer the Yankees to a 41-18 start, including an 8-1 record in their past nine games as they battle the Red Sox for American League East supremacy. The Yankees also haven't batted out of order. That happened to the Mets on May 9 in a game they would lose 2-1 to the Reds in 10 innings, drawing them coveted front-page honors in the New York Daily News and New York Post -- for all the wrong reasons:
A tale of two NYC teams...— Nick Parco (@nick_parco) May 10, 2018
Thursday's back page:
MLB-best Yankees rally to top Boston, take over first in AL East https://t.co/2d1Mg7rt2H
and on the front:
Mets bat out of order, lose on walkoff HR https://t.co/yQzB8Lj6bF@espn @MLBNetwork @APSE_sportmedia @BackPageGuyNYDN pic.twitter.com/YuYwVrHbfn
Callaway quickly learned there is no leniency in New York, even with a slew of injuries. Indeed, the current disabled list includes Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares, Travis d'Arnaud and AJ Ramos, with various degrees of severity (d'Arnaud is out for the season and Lagares is probably out as well). Syndergaard was set to start the series finale Sunday before a setback kept him sidelined, and Todd Frazier just returned after missing nearly a month of action, so the Mets are at least closer to their best health status since starting the season 11-1.
Ahh, yes, early April was a more joyous time for the Mets and their manager:
Since that 11-1 start, however, the only team with a worse winning percentage is the Orioles -- and the O's swept a two-game series between the two teams this week. Apparently, this is the new low for the Mets:
Of course, with the Yankees on pace for 113 wins, it's easy to forget they got off to a rocky start. They were 9-9 before reeling off a 17-1 streak. An anticipated Luis Severino-Chris Sale showdown turned into a 14-1 rout for the Red Sox, the much-vaunted bullpen had blown a couple of leads, and Giancarlo Stanton was striking out in droves:
Boone wasn't about to panic. He kept Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot even after a slow start. He has kept Aaron Judge in the 2-hole all season because that's where he wants Judge to hit. Stanton has hit third or fourth all season (with one start in the No. 2 slot the other day when Judge got a day off) as Boone wisely ignored calls to move him down in the order.
Despite the impressive record, the Yankees haven't been without their own problems -- as much as Mets fans think they have the market covered in injuries. Jordan Montgomery is now out because of Tommy John surgery. Greg Bird is back at first base but has played only 10 games after an injury late in spring training. Brandon Drury was supposed to be the everyday third baseman but played only eight games before he started suffering from migraines and blurred vision. Tommy Kahnle has been injured and ineffective. Sonny Gray was terrible for months, although has looked much better his past two starts. And Masahiro Tanaka exited Friday night's game early after tagging up on a Judge sac fly.
It's not that Boone hasn't escaped his own criticism, however. In an April 1 loss to the Blue Jays, the Yankees blew a 4-1 lead as Justin Smoak hit a grand slam off David Robertson in the eighth inning -- after an intentional walk to Josh Donaldson had loaded the bases. The move was questionable if defendable (until it didn't work): Robertson does have a sizable reverse platoon split and Donaldson is Donaldson, but loading the bases also leaves no margin for error. You could imagine the reaction before the papers went to press:
Our @NYDNSports back page: The second-guessing of rookie skipper Aaron Boone begins as risky call gets slammed in Yankees' loss to Blue Jays. @PeterBotte -- https://t.co/Jb4qLyAIEa pic.twitter.com/vAJ4yXW4tc— Tom Biersdorfer (@TomBiersdorfer) April 2, 2018
That's the beauty of New York, whether you're a player or manager: the unconditional love and passion when things are going well, mixed with the expectation that things better always go well. Boone has the perfect demeanor for the job. He's enthusiastic and media-friendly, two traits that weren't among his predecessor Joe Girardi's strong suits, and he's going to be an excellent communicator with his players. In this era with few stolen bases, few hit-and-runs, the death of the pitchout and bunt, that's the manager's primary job, other than not screwing up the bullpen moves.
Boone might have lacked managerial or coaching experience, but Callaway was arguably more of the wild card as a potential manager. He had rightfully earned a great deal of credit as the pitching coach for the Indians, but major league history is littered with pitching coaches who failed as managers. Indeed, Callaway and Bud Black are the only current managers who were pitchers.
Hired as the Indians' pitching coach in 2013, he helped turn Corey Kluber into a two-time Cy Young winner. He let Trevor Bauer be Trevor Bauer after the Diamondbacks quickly gave up on him. Carlos Carrasco developed into one of the better starters in the league. Cody Allen had just reached the majors in 2012. Danny Salazar was a rookie in 2013. Mike Clevinger had a breakout season in 2017. Few teams have developed pitchers like the Indians in recent years.
So that's why the Mets hired him. The World Series team in 2015 had a 3.43 ERA/111 ERA+ and gave up the fifth-fewest runs in the National League. The 2017 Mets had 5.01 ERA/84 ERA+ and gave up the second-most runs in the NL. A team that was supposed to be built around its pitching had little of it. The returns so far have been marginally better, but that's mostly because of Jacob deGrom, who is 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA. Overall, the club has a 4.10 ERA and is in the middle of the pack in runs allowed.
Callaway has also had a few more ongoing difficult issues than Boone. While the Yankees skipper has seen rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar rise to the occasion and pick up the slack for the so-so starts from Stanton and Gary Sanchez, Callaway has had to deal with Matt Harvey and Cespedes. That has led to plenty of back-page fodder:
Our late edition @NYDNSports back page: Defiant Matt Harvey insists several times he's "a starting pitcher" after another poor outing as Mets fall to Braves, but Mickey Callaway won't commit to the former Dark Knight making his next start. -- https://t.co/Mb7VNB0mju pic.twitter.com/MULtO0xCst— Tom Biersdorfer (@TomBiersdorfer) April 20, 2018
The Mets also seem reluctant to admit Jose Reyes is cooked. He was worth minus-0.6 WAR last season and has been even worse this season, with minus-1.0 WAR while hitting .141. Yet the Mets have apparently been reluctant to release him because of his legacy with the franchise. Please.
And let's just say Callaway's team meeting last week didn't exactly work. The Mets haven't won since:
Saturday's back page...— NY Daily News Sports (@NYDNSports) June 2, 2018
THE WRONG 'WAY'
Mickey Callaway, after complaining about Yoenis Cespedes still being on DL, calls meeting as Mets fall below .500 for first time this season with loss to Cubs https://t.co/R9VxWDhudn @ESPN @MLBNetwork @APSE_sportmedia pic.twitter.com/dOOiX12Kq0
What's interesting about all this is in many ways there might actually be more pressure now on Boone the rest of the way. The Yankees obviously want to avoid the wild-card game, and with this AL East race expected to go down to the wire, that makes every game and every decision all that more important.
Callaway and the Mets? Well, at this point, even Mr. Met is afraid to watch:
Oh, the Mets also haven't won since that headline declared things couldn't get much worse. With two Subway Series games still to play, this sets up an exciting weekend -- at least for the tabloid headline writers.