Priests Have High Expectations for Mets and Yankees in 2023

New York Yankees captain Aaron Judge and New York Mets starting pitcher Justin Verlander hope to lead their respective teams back to the postseason in 2023. (Photos: Courtesy of Getty Images)

For the New York Mets and New York Yankees, a new season means taking care of some unfinished business.

For the Mets, it’s avenging a disappointing early playoff exit against the San Diego Padres after a 101-win season.

For the Yankees, it’s moving past another playoff exit at the hands of the Houston Astros, who swept the Bronx Bombers in the American League Championship Series en route to winning the World Series.

Both teams have retooled for another campaign, and some local diocesan clergy have been eager to weigh in on expectations for the season.

Father Chris Bethge, the diocesan vocations director and adjunct faculty member at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst, became a Yankees fan in 2002. His grandfather had open-heart surgery, so he spent that spring and summer watching ballgames with his grandpa on the newly formed YES Network.

The big splash for the Yankees this offseason was retaining superstar outfielder Aaron Judge on a nine-year, $360 million contract. Judge — now the Yanks’ captain — is fresh off a year in which he hit a new American League record 62 home runs while winning the league MVP award.

Fellow stars Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, D.J. LeMahieu, and Nestor Cortes will look to join Judge in their quest to dethrone the mighty Astros. Yet already, the team seems plagued by the injury bug, as last year’s trade deadline acquisition Frankie Montas may miss the entire sea- son and new high-priced lefty starter Carlos Rodón will begin the season on the injured list.

“Health is obviously the priority,” Father Bethge said. “If some guys are kept out in April so that they’re healthy for October, that’s fine. If these are lingering injuries, then I’m a little worried.”

The Yankees are also experiencing a youth movement, and the question will be whether the organization lets the kids play or continues to develop the young players in the minors. Infielders Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza are 21 and 22, respectively, and outfielders Jasson Domínguez and Oswaldo Cabrera are 20 and 24, respectively.

With the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays looking strong, the Yankees will need to stay healthy, since on paper their roster is still the class of the division. However, as has been the case for the past few seasons, the Astros will be waiting in October.

“As long as we can avoid the Astros in the playoffs, we’ll be good to go,” Father Bethge said.

Meanwhile, over in Flushing, the Mets went on an absolute spending spree this offseason. With the perennial contender Atlanta Braves and defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in the same division, Mets owner Steve Co- hen spared no expense in wanting to build a championship-caliber ballclub.

Two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is out, but three-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is in, to be paired atop the Mets rotation with Max Scherzer. The team also signed Japanese sensation Kodai Senga, adding to a formidable starting staff.

The Mets re-signed center fielder Brandon Nimmo and closer Edwin Díaz as well, though Díaz is expected to miss the entire season after sustaining a knee injury during the World Baseball Classic. The solid core of Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, National League batting champion Jeff McNeil, and Starling Marte is sure to do some damage — assuming everyone can stay healthy.

“I’m glad we didn’t re-sign deGrom,” said Father Ed Kachurka, pastor of St. Gregory the Great, Bellerose. “People were upset about it, but I said, ‘Why?’ He’s a good ballplayer and he helped the Mets a lot, but his body’s not in great shape.

“If Nimmo were not re-signed, I would have been very upset. Nimmo over deGrom.”

Father Kachurka, whose fandom began in the 1960s after going to Shea Stadium, knows health will be of utmost importance for the Mets. Free agent signee Jose Quintana, a left-handed starting pitcher, is set to miss significant time with a rib injury.

Still, the priest is confident in his team and predicts the Mets will win 106 games — which would be the second-highest total in franchise history behind only the 1986 World Series championship year in which the Amazins won 108 games.

“They need strong pitching, they need to hit, and they need to win on a regular basis,” Father Kachurka said. “You just have to go out and do it.”

In a perfect world, both the Mets and Yankees stay healthy, perform up to their expectations, and square off in another Subway Series World Series. While one priest would be confident in his team’s chances against the crosstown rival, the other is a bit more skeptical. “I don’t want to play the Mets in the World Series,” said Father Bethge. “There’s too much pressure!”

Opening Day for both the Mets and Yankees is Thursday, March 30. The Mets open on the road at 4:10 p.m. against the Miami Marlins, while the Yankees host the San Francisco Giants in the Bronx at 1:05 p.m.

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