With the Mets and Yankees battling this weekend, I decided to check in with Chad Jennings, intrepid beat reporter for the New York Yankees for this publication. Chad had some interesting insights into the strengths and weaknesses of that team in The Bronx, which is no surprise if you read his work regularly. I’ve also answered questions for Chad about the Mets, which you can check out below.
1. Curtis Granderson, after a career of remarkable futility against lefties, has a 1.176 OPS against them this season, with seven home runs in 40 at-bats. Has he figured something out, do you think, or is this just a small sample size issue?
CHAD JENNINGS: He started to figure something out late last season when he and hitting coach Kevin Long made a series of mechanical changes to his swing. At this point, I think the sample size is large enough to suggest a legitimate change, not a mere coincidence. He hasn’t been hitting these home runs off junkball lefties, either. In the past week he’s taken David Price and Jon Lester deep.
2. What exactly is wrong with Phil Hughes, and what can the Yankees expect from him this season?
CHAD JENNINGS: Right now the Yankees are hoping the whole saga can be explained by a bit of inflammation (and possibly last year’s workload). The Yankees seem to be hoping for a mid-June return. He’s in the early stages of a throwing program right now and still needs to get off a mound and into a few rehab appearances before being activated. At this point, it’s too early to know whether the time off has actually done any good.
3. How much patience will the Yankees show with Nick Swisher?
CHAD JENNINGS: Quite a bit, I think. He’s hit lefties pretty well, but right-handers have been a disaster for him. Last season was too much of a step forward to ignore, and the Yankees don’t have a everyday-type outfielder in the upper levels of their minor league system. Andruw Jones and Chris Dickerson can get some platoon-type at-bats, but ultimately the Yankees need Swisher to get going. Even if his average doesn’t reach last year’s level, his patience and power should make him an impact hitter.
4. Will the Yankees promote any of the Killer Bs this season if there’s a need at the major league level? How about David Phelps?
CHAD JENNINGS: Right now the rotation is actually a strength. Andrew Brackman has struggled in Triple-A, while Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are still in Double-A and almost certainly won’t skip a level. One or more could step into a big league role much later this season, but it’s hard to see them playing a significant role in the near future. David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell — and even Carlos Silva — seem like more likely options right now.
5. Bigger problem for the Yankees: rotation issues, or the relative strength of the division?
CHAD JENNINGS: Strength of the division, no doubt. The rotation has held it together, and if things start to fall apart now, the Yankees will have Phil Hughes working his way back, plus a Triple-A rotation full of talented young pitchers who now have enough experience to play a big league role if necessary. The rotation might not be able to keep this pace all season, but the Rays and Red Sox are still a greater concern.
And on the Mets:
1. The Mets are playing without David Wright and Ike Davis. Having a DH will let them use Fernando Martinez, but is that enough to make this a dangerous lineup?
HOWARD MEGDAL: Well, yes and no. Keep in mind that both Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes have been remarkably productive so far this year. And Justin Turner has 10 RBI in the past five games. So if Jason Bay’s strong Thursday was anything like a breakthrough, they should have no problem scoring runs this weekend. But long term, If Bay and Davis are out for long periods of time? Color me skeptical that Turner continues at a Hack Wilson pace.
2. Last year R.A. Dickey seemed to take a significant step and become a viable big league starter. Was that a one-year-only experience? What’s not working for him this year?
HOWARD MEGDAL: So far, everything. He’s lost confidence in the knuckleball several times this season, to the point that he’s gone away completely from the pitch, mid-game, that he threw overwhelmingly last season. If Dickey isn’t throwing his knuckleball for strikes- and his low walk rate while throwing the pitch last season was the source of his success- it hurts his effectiveness. But if he stops throwing the knuckleball generally, he doesn’t have big league stuff. That cannot be an option for him.
3. The Yankees defense has stumbled lately, and the Mets have enough speed to be aggressive. Could they use their speed to force the issue and make the Yankees sink or swim with their defense?
HOWARD MEGDAL: They can to an extent, though keep in mind that other than Reyes, the Mets are missing their two best base stealers in Wright and Angel Pagan right now. Jason Bay has been known to sneak a steal here and there. Carlos Beltran doesn’t have a stolen base this season. His stolen bases are in the same place Alex Rodriguez’s are at this point- in the past.
4. Obviously the Mets rotation is a bit of a mess and their lineup is missing two key pieces, but the bullpen actually seems fairly reliable. Are the first five or six innings the key to this series?
HOWARD MEGDAL: Consider that the Mets have had a lockdown bullpen since April 16, and are scoring runs at a reasonably decent clip (at seventh in the NL entering Thursday, but fourth as recently as Tuesday). The starting rotation didn’t have a pitcher with an ERA+ over 84 entering Thursday, though Dillon Gee, of all people, broke through that dubious barrier with his shutout Thursday. It’s not just the key to the series, for the Mets-assuming they get Davis, Wright and Pagan back reasonably soon- it is the key to the whole season.
5. Will Jose Reyes still be with the Mets on August 1? On June 1?
HOWARD MEGDAL: Well, you know, besides this. On June 1, yes. On August 1, I just don’t think they’ll have the financial flexibility to do it. I think the idea that Sandy Alderson somehow doesn’t know the value of Reyes because he doesn’t walk as much as Rickey Henderson is ludicrous. Alderson knows that a shortstop hitting as well as any in baseball, about to turn 28, is immensely valuable. It is simply the poor fortune of Mets fans that Reyes is hitting free agency this year, rather than 2012 or 2013, when the team is likely to have a lot more financial clarity.