It's Subway Series Time Again

Yankees and Mets both roll into series with first place in their sights

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    It's more than a marketing ploy this time.

    With the exception of the 2000 World Series, the Yankees and Mets haven't played too many meaningful games since interleague play became part of the baseball landscape.

    There have been some entertaining games -- the names Dave Mlicki and Luis Castillo don't matter without interleague play -- but very few of them actually played a role in the larger narrative of the season. The walk in the wilderness that the Mets have taken the last three years has only made it harder to recall a moment where the game was more than just an excuse to tease your cousin. 

    Given all that, we should count ourselves lucky that this year is the exception to the rule. Both teams come into Friday night's opener within spitting distance of first place and that means the results this weekend will impact the chances of both teams moving past their divisional rivals.

    That should make for a pretty hot atmosphere when the two teams get on the field to renew acquaintances on Friday night. And, in what might be an even bigger surprise than both teams being in contention, pitching will be the thing to watch.

    All three days of the series have intriguing pitching storylines to follow, starting with Johan Santana on Friday night. It is his first start since throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history during which he threw a career-high 134 pitches.

    Eyes will be watching Santana closely to see if all those pitches result in any drop in performance from the Mets ace. He was given extra rest as a result of the workload last time, but Terry Collins said that there's no pitch limit for Santana heading into the game.

    The compelling questions don't end with Santana's fitness.

    Can Phil Hughes keep it going? Hughes has turned in some of his best work in years over the last few weeks and another strong start on Saturday would result in another step up the confidence ladder. It will also be interesting to see if Hughes can go a whole start without giving up a home run against the power-challenged Mets.

    Can Jon Niese keep it going? Pretty much the same case as Hughes as Niese tries to build on his best start of the season against the Cardinals last Sunday. If the lefty can step up as a complement to Santana and R.A. Dickey, the Mets' chances of fading drop significantly.

    What will Andy Pettitte do next? If not for Santana and Dickey, Pettitte would be the best pitching story in town this year. His comeback has been a rousing success thus far and a win over the Mets might get the Yankees knocking on some other vintage doors for a little help. 

    Will the Mets bullpen blow up again? The bullpen has been the Mets' dirty little secret this year, but it will move to the forefront if it blows a game in the late innings at Yankee Stadium. The same could be true of the Mariano-less Yankees, but at least they have David Robertson to act as savior at some point this season.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.