The seven week countdown has started to opening day in the Bronx when the first pitch is thrown at Yankee Stadium. But the defending NL champion New York Mets will get the head start with a ESPN Sunday Night Baseball premiere against the Kansas City Royals.
The Mets last saw the Royals at Citi Field 108 days ago at Citi Field, and of course the memories will linger as to how Kansas City clinched a world championship in a fifth game. For the Mets that memory lingered the past few months with an incentive for a return to the big dance in October.
“The expectation here is get back there,” said the manager Terry Collins about October, as position players reported many days before the required start date. He said enthusiasm is the best in his sixth year at the helm.
And for the Yankees, of course it has to be this way with the Houston Astros visiting the Bronx for a first game on the schedule. Memories linger also in the Bronx, because it was the Astros who rid the Yankees from the postseason with a one-game elimination wild card game.
But that is all in the past because as they say, these are the “Rites of Spring.” This week full squads for the Mets and Yankees get to work on both sides in the state of Florida with a mission to get back there in October.
For the Mets there is enthusiasm that carries over from that marvelous ride of 2015, while the Yankees trying to get younger also have that enthusiasm. However for the first time in years, the Mets seem to be capturing the attention and no doubt that is attributed to possibly having the best pitching staff in baseball, and Yoenis Cespedes has returned.
When Cespedes arrived in camp down in Port St Lucie, enthusiasm was in the air. There is that aura about a player who propelled the Mets to have the best offense in the NL when he arrived at the trading deadline. It is that type of excitement that has not been seen in a Mets spring training camp since that NL championship year of 2000.
There is Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz that add to the mix of this excitement, young arms that are expected to get the Mets back to playing deep into October.
Yes, these are the “Rites of Spring” where expectation and excitement begin towards the start of a new baseball season. The best part of the equation are decisions made by managers and the coaching staffs and who will make the cut to be a part of the 25-man roster that comes up north.
And for the Yankees, where expectations are always a part of the equation, the questions are the strength of a starting pitching rotation that was inconsistent and besieged with injuries. Down In Tampa manager Joe Girardi is watching the progress of righthander Masahiro Tanaka who had a bone spur removed from the right elbow in October that goes back to his career in Japan.
“We watch his stuff all the time,” Girardi said about Tanaka after he threw his third bullpen session in camp. Tanaka is the projected starter for opening day but right now that is skeptical in the early days of camp. CC Sabathia says he is ready to go after a stint in alcohol rehab, yet there are lingering issues as to how both knees will hold up.
Yes these are the “Rites of Spring” for the Yankees, a team with high expectations and an aged group of veterans who need to produce and be healthy if they want to see baseball being played in the Bronx this October.
As to projections and where both teams will finish, well that is always left to the experts who call for the Mets having more wins than the Yankees at the end of September. But during the course of a long 162-game season anything can happen along the way.
The Yankees hope to get production and an injury free season from Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira, two of those veterans. Can soon to be 41-year old Alex Rodriguez who enters camp quietly this week duplicate the 2015 comeback season that swayed away from controversy and steroids? And can A-Rod be a component of a Yankees offense in the DH spot that will help put runs on the board?
There are no questions for the Yankees and only anticipation of a big three out of the bullpen in Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and newcomer Aroldis Chapman. So the first few days of camp the fans came to see a trio that could save a good amount of ballgames for the Yankees.
However, getting to the big three depends on six good innings or less from that inconsistent staff that includes Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova, though righthander Luis Severino the youngster showed late last season a youth movement that can take the Yankees in that direction. This is a team that failed to score runs the past two years and the offense needs to provide those starters with some run support.
The big acquisition during the off season, 25-year old Starlin Castro is a vast improvement at second base and a good complement to Didi Gregorius at shortstop that shores up the infield. Younger and better is the Yankees middle of the infield and what manager will complain about that?
The 27 -year old Pineda was 12-10 with a 4.37 ERA last season in 160 innings, but his slider, curve and fastball are considered the best on the Yankees staff. And there is Nathan Eovaldi, a season cut short because of a shoulder injury and the most consistent of the starters last season.
Yes there are expectations for the Yankees. And the spring brings eternal hope with a roster that can carry the torch to October, assuming of course that everything goes to plan the next six weeks. It is why the “Rites of Spring” are enjoyable as the days transpire with a countdown to Opening Day in the Bronx.
The Mets finished 90-72, seven games ahead of the second place Nationals but as their spring progresses they are the team that will be watched and have the unusual aspect of being the elite baseball team in New York.
The “Rites of Spring” is in full swing and soon after the long baseball campaign.
Comment Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso