NL East: Surprising Mets Look to Take First Place

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NL East: Surprising Mets Look to Take First Place
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The New York Mets have been on an absolute tear this past week, and they are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Currently they are in second place a half-game behind the Atlanta Braves and are eight games over .500 with a 36-28 record.

After this series against the Cleveland Indians, the Mets play the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, and Detroit Tigers to finish up their inter league play schedule for this month.

Last Thursday, they played a doubleheader against their surprising nemesis, the San Diego Padres, who the Mets always seem to struggle against every season.

The Mets lost the first game, as the offense was flat and Johan Santana struggled, but they have gone undefeated since, including a three-game sweep last weekend in Baltimore.

Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey and Hisenori Takahashi have all turned in terrific pitching efforts during the winning streak. Mike Pelfrey struggled on Sunday, but the offense picked him up and they earned a lopsided victory. 

During the second game of the doubleheader last Thursday night, the only blemish on Niese's game was a third inning double. Otherwise, he pitched a perfect game.

Last night, Johan Santana received the kind of offensive support that had been sorely missed, as the Mets picked up their teammate with timely hitting in a 7-6 victory. However, all things being fair, Santana once again did not have his best stuff early but did settle down later in the game.

Last season, with the non-stop barrage of injuries, expectations and morale were very low and the games in September were meaningless. 

Truth be told, after the All-Star Break, it was apparent that this team would not be overcoming the injuries to just about every player.

During the winter months, not as many changes were made in the roster as fans had hoped and there was quite a bit of disappointment when the Mets got off to a slow start this year.

There were high expectations for Jason Bay, he was not living up to them and fans were questioning the lucrative contract given to him.

Carlos Beltran had a highly-controversial surgery on his knee in September so that is what took over the headlines for the Mets this past winter.

The unexpected additions of Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco were not as hyped, but they have both performed extremely well and the pitching staff has responded well to their guidance.

Oliver Perez, John Maine, Luis Castillo and Daniel Murphy all have gone down with injuries, in fact, Murphy's season is already over since attempting rehabilitation on his right knee. 

Castillo could possibly be activated sometime next week, but time will tell, he still needs to play in Minor League games for rehabilitation.

Perez and Maine will likely be back in the rotation soon but with the way that Dickey and Takahashi have been pitching, there will be some tough decisions to be made for manager Jerry Manuel.

Last year the Mets were not getting the pitching performances that they are receiving now. It was almost like no matter how many runs the Mets scored, it was not enough to overcome the deficit that the other team had every game.

This 2010 New York Mets are very different than in previous years. They are fun to watch, and seem to be able to overcome large leads by the opposition, in short, they are hungry and energetic. 

I do think the overall youth of the team is helping this team, especially having an infield of Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada (when he is playing instead of Alex Cora), Jose Reyes and David Wright, who are all home grown and under 30 years old.

This youth factor, along with some new veteran players who have both intensity (Chris "Animal" Carter) and fun loving spirit (Henry Blanco and Rod Barajas are both known for their humor) has helped the chemistry. 

Also, much has been written about the time off the field that this team spends together, watching the Olympics, World Cup, and other events that have bonded this group of players together away from the baseball diamond.

They are playing both large and small ball and are grinding everything out win or lose and hustle out every ground ball, as evidenced by seven infield hits last night. 

Two infield hits by David Wright produced runs when a weak Indians defense underestimated the base running speed of Jose Reyes and Wright himself, who with three RBIs last night is now the National League RBI leader.

Chris Carter, Ike Davis, and David Wright are all slugging home runs, something that was missed last year.  Daniel Murphy was the Mets HR leader with 12 home runs, Wright struggled in that aspect but still managed to put up good overall numbers. 

While Carlos Delgado is missed, Ike Davis has been an incredible force, both offensively with his HR's and also defensively, as his trademark play is the somersault into the dugout to catch foul balls.

Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur are both doing their part every game, and Alex Cora is filling in nicely for an injured Luis Castillo.  Carlos Beltran will likely not be back before August, but Angel Pagan has been doing an incredible job both hitting and fielding, which takes the pressure off the Mets to find a mid-season replacement for Beltran.

Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco are vast upgrades over Brian Schneider and Omir Santos at catcher both offensively and defensively, so it is not a surprise that the pitching staff and lineup both benefit every day from their contributions.

While there is no guarantee the Mets will end up being the National League East champions, one thing is for sure: up to this point, they are battling with all they have, and having fun in the process.

The Mets want to win and put the last three years of bitter disappointment behind them, but at the end of the day, they know baseball is a game and they should be having fun.

There is no doubt that this 2010 Mets team is a cohesive unit who has each other's backs, and the result is finally showing on the field.

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