The New York Yankees and New York Mets have both had their moments of glory over the years — OK, fine, the Yankees have had just a few more of those — but seldom have both teams been great at the exact same time. The birth of the expansion Mets made that hard from the start, given their reputation for boundless failure early on. But even after the 1969 Miracle Mets finally shed that losing label, the Yankees and Mets were mostly ships passing in the night: Whether it was the 1970s, ’80s or early ’90s, whenever one was up, the other seemed to be down. It wasn’t until 1999 that both teams made the playoffs in the same season, which laid the groundwork for the first and only Yankees-Mets Subway Series the following postseason. After that, though, it was back to missed connections, and we haven’t been particularly close to getting another all-NYC Fall Classic since.
That is, until this year — maybe. While it’s always premature to make any specific World Series pick, even in October (much less June), the Yankees do have the best pennant odds (31 percent) of any American League team according to our forecast model, and the Mets (14 percent) are second in the NL behind only the star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers. (Minor detail, I know.) That means there’s currently a 4.3 percent chance that the two teams will face off in the World Series — the fourth-highest probability among any potential championship combo.
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Just as importantly, both New York teams are simply playing great baseball at the same time — a historical rarity that’s necessary to make a Subway Series collision course even remotely possible.
At the moment, the Yankees have the best winning percentage in the AL (.727), and the Mets have the best winning percentage in the NL (.655). Together, they’ve gone a combined 78-35 so far this season, which works out to a scorching 112-win pace per 162 games. (A number that would itself rank among the greatest seasons ever.) Since the Mets came into existence in 1962, we’ve basically never seen the two New York teams collectively run this hot at the one-third mark of the season: Their average winning percentage of .685 was the highest through 54 games in the history of the rivalry, and their average runs-per-game differential (+1.59) and Elo rating (1559.7) were both a close second behind the 1998 season.
Even in the hazy memories of a bygone era when New York City was truly the center of the baseball universe, there was never a season in which the Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants combined to win so often early in the schedule. The best start to a season during that period was in 1955, when Brooklyn carried the lot with a .778 winning percentage through 54 games, and the three New York teams combined for a .660 mark — in what ended up being a prelude to the Yankees and Dodgers meeting in the World Series.
A Subway Series was commonplace in those days; it happened seven times in the 10 seasons from 1947 to 1956, usually involving trips between Brooklyn and the Bronx. (Only in 1951 did the Giants win the pennant, before losing to the Yankees in the Fall Classic.) But outside of interleague play, which allowed the Mets and Yankees to face during the regular season starting in 1997, there were no crosstown New York matchups at all between 1956 and 2000. The departures of the Giants and Dodgers for the West Coast in 1957 conspired with the Mets’ early foibles and then the up-and-down nature of the rivalry over the following three decades to prevent a meeting from taking place.
Looking at some of the other top 54-game starts on the list above, the Mets had the best team in baseball in 1986 and one of the best in 1988, but the Yankees were mired in an uncharacteristic 13-year postseason drought, so they didn’t cross paths either year. (The Mets failed to reach the ’88 World Series anyway, losing the NLCS to the Dodgers in seven games.) In 1998, the Yankees were in the midst of setting a new record for most total wins — including playoffs — by a team in a single MLB season (125), but the Mets fumbled away a late wild-card lead with an ill-timed five-game losing skid to finish the regular season 1½ games out of the playoffs. All three seasons serve as reminders that early indicators of strong Subway Series potential don’t always pan out.
And maybe the most notable thing about that list is the season that isn’t there: 2000, the one time the two New York ballclubs actually did end up colliding in the playoffs. Both teams had solid records through 54 games — the Yankees were 31-23, the Mets 30-24 — but there was plenty of competition in their respective leagues that year, so neither team was looking like a commanding favorite. The Yankees were already a dynasty, having won two straight World Series — and three of the previous four — but they coasted to 87 wins during that regular season before turning it on in the playoffs. And the Mets had arguably been better in 1999 — when they narrowly lost the NLCS to the rival Atlanta Braves — than in 2000, when they had a worse winning percentage (.580 versus .595) and run differential (+69 versus +142).
Yet despite fewer indications that a Subway Series might transpire that year, it did indeed happen — giving us this amazingly hammy (but endearing) Billy Crystal intro for the Fox broadcast:
This year, instead of talking about Mike and Derek or Bernie and Fonzie, we would be hyping up Pete and Aaron, or the Flying Squirrel and Nasty Nestor. Will it happen? Who knows! A lot of things can go off course over the last two-thirds of a baseball season. But right now, the Yankees and Mets are making a Subway Series look like a legitimate possibility — and not just the product of big-city bluster and East Coast bias.
Check out our latest MLB predictions.
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