In the first month of the baseball season, things have gone quite the opposite of expectations for the two New York ball clubs.
The New York Mets are expected to compete with the Washington Nationals for the National League East, and with their pitching staff, they have dreams of a deep October run. We’ve seen that script in 2015.
On the other hand, the New York Yankees began the season in a transition phase — despite Brian Cashman saying the team wasn’t. They were expected to feature new, young bats in the lineup, with fans being cautiously optimistic. Their optimism did not lie where the team will finish in the standings at the end of 162 games, but an excitement of seeing promising prospects getting penciled into the lineup by Joe Girardi in the late summer months.
Throw all — er most — of that out of the window. There is a new script in the Big Apple.
Both teams — be sure to check out SBNY’s April report card — have had some bad luck in the opening month of the season. The Yankees lost Gary Sanchez (bicep) and Didi Gregorius (shoulder) to injuries, but thanks to Rookie of The Month Aaron Judge’s offensive prowess, it seemed the team never skipped a beat.
The Mets, on the other hand, were a case of what can go wrong, will go wrong. But there is some light for the boys in orange and blue. His name is Michael Conforto, and he shall remain the Mets’ leadoff hitter for the duration of the season.
Both Judge and Conforto have their respective reasons why fans should be thrilled to see what they have up their sleeves when they step in the batter’s box.
The man, the myth, the rookie, Judge has been tearing the cover off the ball at a historic rate.
He matched the rookie record for home runs in the month of April —tying him with Jose Abreu and Trevor Story — with 10, and as of Thursday, he led the league in that category with 13.
At 6-foot-7 Judge grew comparisons to Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton both in stature and offensive ability. He’s live up to the reputation, having a slash line of .330/.352/.587. He is tied with Tampa Bay Rays’ Corey Dickerson for sixth in the AL for batting average and leads the league — tied with Twins’ Miguel Sano — in RBIs with 27.
Through 25 games played:
Barry Bonds 2001
26 RBI#Yankees Aaron Judge 2017
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) May 4, 2017
The Yankees as a team also benefit from his early season power surge, going 11-0 in games in which Judge homers.
There are a lot of qualities to Judge that make him special — even getting Girardi to come out and say he reminds the skipper of Derek Jeter.
The most important quality though, is he is helping the team win. As of Thursday, the Yankees had the best record in the AL East and only trailed the Houston Astros for the best record in the league.
It’ll be fun to see what is in store for him as the season progresses and he gets even more comfortable in the box despite the situation.
It’s no secret that the Mets are a mess. Injuries are again plaguing the team, and leading to an underperformance in a year they were expected to get more attention than the Yankees.
Eyes and ears though have been wandering elsewhere not named Queens, but if there is one player the people should be watching it is Michael Conforto.
Prior to manager Terry Collins putting Conforto in the leadoff spot, the team was batting .060 in that spot. In an age where the top hitter is going from the fastest man on the team to the man who gets on base the most — thanks, Joe Maddon — that is not good.
Enter Conforto, a man who has one of the silkiest left-handed swings in all of baseball. He has jump-started three games with a leadoff home run, having seven overall on the campaign. His slash line of .357/.427/.700 isn’t yet eligible for any MLB categories due to lack in the number of at-bats, but the sample size is big for a team needing some sort of hope.
Since Conforto’s transition to the leadoff hitter, Jose Reyes has looked more comfortable in a lineup with a lot of questions. It was built around sluggers, and fans knew troubling times were bound to happen. Despite losing Cespedes for an extended period of time, the team will score runs, and it’s better to have some table setters when the sluggers begin warming up for the Mets.
Conforto needs this to work as much as the Mets do. He was a starter for the pennant winners in 2015, but due to major struggles, the team traded for Jay Bruce. Conforto though has made his aggressive batting payoff in a new role for the team, and the success has gotten off on the right foot. Here’s to hoping it stays that way for a team that needs any sort of positivity in May.
Of course, fans of both teams cannot expect Judge and Conforto to continue to keep posting similar numbers for the duration of the season. Even the best of the best have slumps in a long, rigorous season. But the good news is, the upside to the two players is a bright spot for both clubs, and the success couldn’t have come at a better time.