More than a month into the 2022 Major League Baseball season, some East Coast/West Coast history is being made.
Both New York teams — the Mets and Yankees — and both Los Angeles teams — the Angels and Dodgers — are on pace to win 100-plus games. But even more historic: All four teams are in first place in their respective divisions — the first time that has happened in MLB history.
So which metropolis is better for baseball right now? Setting aside the technicality that the Angels are located not in L.A. but in nearby Anaheim — reminder: the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets both play in the neighboring state of New Jersey, so this is hardly egregious on the grand scale — we asked two ESPN baseball experts, West Coast-based Alden Gonzalez and East Coast-based Joon Lee, to present arguments both tongue-in-cheek and totally serious for their home bases in this tale of two cities.
So which MLB town would you take today: L.A. or NYC?
Which city currently has the best baseball atmosphere?
Alden Gonzalez on why it’s L.A.: A question to all of those who get on Dodgers fans for their perpetual tardiness: Have you ever tried to drive into Dodger Stadium leading up to first pitch? That’s traffic. And it’s not as if there’s some subway you can take to get there, either. By the middle innings of practically every home game, on any night, that place is packed and loud. And when it gets especially tense, particularly in October, you can feel the building shake. It is a truly unique atmosphere, and I say that as someone who has visited all 30 active ballparks. The Dodgers led the major leagues in attendance every year from 2013 to 2019, annually topping 3.7 million fans. The Angels sold at least 3 million tickets for 17 straight years leading up to the fan-less, COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. One of their new relievers, Archie Bradley, recently wondered if Angels fans might be “the best-kept secret in baseball.”
Joon Lee on why it’s NYC: Alden’s use of traffic to excuse the tardiness of fans on the West Coast is not just an argument for why the fans at both New York stadiums exceed Los Angeles, but why it’s a better place to live as well. The subways certainly aren’t perfect, but they will get you to both stadiums without the need to pay exorbitant fees for parking. Citi Field is loud and passionate on a nightly basis and is one of the most joyful places to watch a sporting event — especially when the Mets are going well. The vibe at the new Yankee Stadium certainly isn’t the same as what it used to be at the old Stadium, but the team’s fan base is among the rowdiest in baseball on a nightly basis, featuring the roll call at the start of every game that sets the tone.
Which coast has the most star power?
Gonzalez: Mike Trout is arguably the most popular player in the sport, and two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani is a generational star. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. And yet it was three current Dodgers who fell within the top six in jersey sales last year, according to MLB: Mookie Betts (first), Clayton Kershaw (fifth) and Cody Bellinger (sixth). They all ranked ahead of the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, who came in seventh. Since then, the Dodgers have added Freddie Freeman, one of the premier hitters of this era. They also employ seven other players who have been All-Stars: Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, David Price, Craig Kimbrel and Blake Treinen. Players on the West Coast are always hurt by a very simple reality — that half the country is usually asleep while they’re playing. That’s not their fault. Mix in a nap, maybe.
Lee: Jersey sales don’t boost numbers on the field. Since 2018, the three pitchers in baseball with the highest FanGraphs WAR are Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole. And among hitters, Francisco Lindor ranks fourth and Judge 11th in fWAR. And that’s before you start thinking about All-Stars on both Mets and Yankees rosters, like Giancarlo Stanton, Pete Alonso, Starling Marte, Anthony Rizzo, Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu, Joey Gallo, Taijuan Walker, Jeff McNeil, Edwin Diaz, Aroldis Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Eduardo Escobar, James McCann and Gleyber Torres.
If you could make a roster taking players from the Dodgers and Angels and another roster from the Yankees and Mets, which would be better (including injured players)?
Gonzalez: I do this stuff for fun all the time — yes, I’m a massive dork — so I’ll take it a step further and present my team as a lineup.
I’d go with Walker Buehler as my starting pitcher but can also go with Kershaw. Raisel Iglesias would be my closer, but Kimbrel is obviously a worthy candidate. That lineup is balanced. The outfield defense would be electric. Five of those players — Betts, Trout, Ohtani, Turner, Bellinger — bring freakish speed-power combinations. Four others — Freeman, Muncy, Rendon, Smith — combine elite power with elite patience. Suerte.
Lee: I’ll match Alden’s lineup.
DJ LeMahieu, 2B
Aaron Judge, RF
Francisco Lindor, SS
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Pete Alonso, 1B
Joey Gallo, LF
Brandon Nimmo, CF
Josh Donaldson, 3B
James McCann, C
Most notably, the rotation would be absolutely stacked, between Scherzer, deGrom and Cole — three pitchers who would be the aces of every rotation in baseball. This team would be hitting the ball to the moon, and have a bullpen that would feature Chapman, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King and Diaz.
How confident are you that your town’s teams will stay high in the standings?
Gonzalez: The Dodgers are the best, most well-rounded team in the majors and the favorites — once again — to win the World Series. Consider this: The rotation was supposed to be their biggest weakness heading into the season, and yet their starters lead the majors in ERA. Their historically talented lineup has yet to fully click, and yet the Dodgers already lead the National League in run differential. The question, of course, is the Angels, who might finally have an adequate supporting cast around Trout and Ohtani. They have legitimate depth and talent in their lineup and in their bullpen. The question, as always, is starting pitching. But two of their most highly touted young arms, Patrick Sandoval and Reid Detmers, have emerged, and Noah Syndergaard has looked like a wonderful addition, outside of Monday’s dud against the Texas Rangers. They have to stay healthy, perhaps more so than any other team. But if they do, the Angels should remain in contention.
Lee: Absolutely confident. I’m confident the Yankees will be in contention for the division title year-round while the Mets seem primed to make a strong run at the playoffs this season. The Yankees and Mets both have top-10 offenses in all of baseball at the moment and top-five pitching staffs. The Mets have a slightly thinner bullpen than the Yankees, but this team is performing well even with deGrom currently on the injured list. If he makes a healthy return sooner than later, watch out for the Mets.
Why is your city most likely to win a World Series this year — and which team would you take?
Gonzalez: Top-shelf talent alone isn’t enough to overcome the 162-game grind, but it can help combat some of the randomness of short postseason series. At times — most notably, perhaps, with the 2019 Washington Nationals — we’ve seen it carry teams through October. The Angels and Dodgers both have that. The Dodgers have that and incredible depth and a plethora of postseason experience and a front office that has proven it can go out and acquire virtually any player to help supplement the roster at midseason. Baseball’s postseason is too unpredictable for there to ever be a true favorite, especially now that it has expanded. But it’s hard not to go with the Dodgers if forced to make a pick.
Lee: I’ll go with the Yankees here. This roster has depth up and down, from the lineup to the starting rotation to the pitching staff. Judge will be motivated to perform in a contract year and I think the top-end talent on the Yankees’ roster exceeds the Mets by a smidge. Especially if Nestor Cortes continues to pitch the way that he has so far this season, the Bronx Bombers will be a threat in October given their combined experience in the postseason. This isn’t an easy choice, however, and I think I could wake up tomorrow and feel better about the Mets than the Yankees. It’s hard to go wrong with either team.
Forget 2022: Why is your city most likely to keep contending for years to come?
Gonzalez: Trout was the predominant player of the 2010s — by a lot — and might be on the verge of his best season right now. The Angels will employ him through 2030. If they can find a way to extend Ohtani, a free agent after 2023, they’ll have two foundational pieces to at least keep them relevant for what remains of this decade. The Dodgers have the following players through at least 2024: Freeman, Betts, Buehler, Smith, Taylor, Gavin Lux and Dustin May. Several important players will be eligible for free agency before then — Bellinger, Muncy, Turner and Julio Urias among them — but their farm system is ranked eighth in the industry by ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel. The Dodgers have deep pockets, but they’re also astonishingly good at churning out elite young players. No team can match that combination.
Lee: Money, money, money. Between the Steinbrenners and Steve Cohen, both teams are primed to spend enormous amounts of money for years to come. And you can combine that with solid young cores on the Mets with Lindor and Alonso, along with the rising prospects in the Yankees’ system like Anthony Volpe and a foundation that includes Cole, LeMahieu and Stanton (and maybe Judge?). The Mets don’t have a farm system at the level of the Dodgers, but a willingness to spend can patch those issues. The Yankees? They finished one notch higher than the Dodgers on McDaniel’s list.