Yankees vs. Mets: What to watch, matchups and storylines in this week's Subway Series

The Yankees are the better baseball team, but the Mets come into this matchup playing their best baseball of the season

NEW YORK — The good team is struggling, and the average team is surging. Such is baseball life in the Big Apple right now.

The Yankees, at 52-28, are tied for the most wins in MLB, but the vibe in The Bronx is decidedly pessimistic at the moment. Underperformance from the latter half of the lineup and bullpen inconsistencies have propelled the Yanks to a 3-7 record in their past 10 games. And yet, thanks to the offensive mastery of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto, the Yankees still have a two-game lead atop the AL East. This is, barring a historically calamitous summer, a surefire playoff team. Still, these Judge-Soto Bombers have flaws — and a few glaring ones at that.

The Mets, meanwhile, are a definitively worse club than the Yankees, but they come into this Subway Series playing their best baseball. For eight weeks, the Mets were an uninspiring trudge — mediocre and boring. But this month has been a different story; the Mets have MLB’s best record in June. The spiritual impetus was a rotund, purple, fast-food mascot, yes, but a string of good health and a handful of offensive bounce-backs have been the actual driving forces behind an unexpected resurgence in Queens.

Here are four main storylines ahead of this two-game set.

In their recent hot stretch, the Mets’ starting rotation has actually been less effective (4.69 ERA/4.29 FIP) than it was the first two months (4.39 ERA/4.18 FIP). The bullpen has been about a run better in June, but this ascension has been offensive-driven.

A pair of southpaws, Sean Manaea and David Peterson, will start for the blue and orange on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Both hurlers have been more sufficient than dominant this season, though, to be fair, Peterson has started only four games since returning from a lengthy injury. But as always, if these lefties can limit or work around Judge and Soto, success is out there. This Yankees lineup has been so top-heavy recently, particularly against left-handed pitching.

On that note, with each passing day, the Bombers’ lineup is conjuring more and more bad memories of last year’s punchless offense. Soto has helped immensely — no duh — but the bottom of this order is going through it right now. In June, Yankees hitters in spots 4 through 9 have combined to post a .208 batting average, a .280 on-base percentage and a .634 OPS, the eighth-worst mark in the league. The infield has been a particular dead zone: Yankees infielders are slashing an abysmal .182/.234/.272 for a .506 OPS.

Judge, Soto and shortstop Anthony Volpe are the only every-day players who’ve hit well against left-handed pitching this year. Alex Verdugo, DJ LeMahieu, Oswaldo Cabrera and Gleyber Torres have been anywhere from underwhelming to horrific against southpaws. Catcher Austin Wells, newbie first baseman Ben Rice and outfielder Trent Grisham, all left-handed hitters, have such bad career splits against lefties that they’ve hardly faced them this season. Recent trade addition J.D. Davis has crushed southpaws in his career, which should help matters, but how the middling, lower end of the Yankees lineup fares against these Mets starters is something to keep an eye on.

The Mets have surged back into contention because (1) their expensive and experienced cadre of accomplished hitters have been hitting as expected and (2) they’ve gotten healthy. This lineup was always supposed to be good. This group entered the year with 17 combined All-Star Game appearances, plus franchise cornerstone Brandon Nimmo and a trio of highly touted youngsters in Francisco Álvarez, Mark Vientos and Brett Baty.

But the Mets stumbled through the spring, with the lineup performing at a league-average clip (100 wRC+) until June 1. Since then, Nimmo, Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso have all been sensational. Free-agent DH JD Martinez, who signed late in camp, then missed the first month due to a back issue, looks caught up to speed. Álvarez was out for more than a month due to a torn ligament in his thumb but has been sensational since returning two weeks ago. Then again, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies: Jeff McNeil still can’t hit. This is the Mets lineup we expected.

The reigning AL Cy Young was out for the first 10 weeks due to elbow inflammation and discomfort. He returned last week, tossing four solid innings against the Orioles. His stuff was understandably a smidge below his career norms, but he still touched 97 mph with his fastball. That said, Cole’s road to being himself isn’t 100 percent over. It’s a process, and he’ll be on a pitch limit until he’s all the way back.

How much length he can give the Yankees on Tuesday is a big deal, though. New York’s bullpen has been a mess of late; only the Cubs’ relief corps has walked batters at a higher clip this month. Fourteen pitchers have come out of the bullpen for the Yankees in June, a sign that this front office is shuffling through options in hopes of finding some consistency.

It has been an odd year for the Mets’ flame-throwing closer. A run of stinkers in mid-May earned him a demotion before a shoulder issue landed him on the IL. Díaz returned on June 13 and was looking like his vintage self across three outings before the sticky stuff police came a’calling.

The 30-year-old closer was ejected before the start of the ninth inning Sunday after the umpiring crew discovered what they deemed an abnormal amount of sticky foreign substance on his fingers. That ejection comes with an automatic 10-game suspension, which means Díaz is unavailable this week against the Yankees. Expect the red-bearded Reed Garrett, in the midst of a career year, to fill in while Díaz is out.