Surprising first half has Mets in postseason hunt

Surprising first half has Mets in postseason hunt

NEW YORK -- So here are the Mets. Thought they'd be dead by now? Most did. But the All-Star Game has come and gone, July is halfway over -- got your tan yet? -- and despite all those preseason predictions of gloom, the Mets still improbably sit within range of their first playoff berth since 2006.

Their two All-Stars, David Wright and R.A. Dickey, have carried them at times. Wright's start to the season, despite a fractured finger, was one of the best by a hitter in franchise history. Dickey's June set records and earned him accolades.

Club breakdowns
First-half highlights

But those two are simply representative of a greater sect of Mets performing above expectations and gelling as a group. From the effectiveness of the rotation to the efficiency of the offense, the Mets spent the first 3 1/2 months of the season hanging tough with the Nationals, Braves, Phillies and Marlins -- all of whom were tabbed to finish ahead of them in the National League East standings.

"It seems like all year we've had that never-say-die attitude," Wright said. "Sometimes, we've come up a little bit short. And there's been some times when we've gotten the job done. But I think it's just the attitude. The process is there. Guys aren't just rolling over and going through the motions."

Added Wright: "It just seems like guys have this attitude that, 'We're going to win the game, no matter what the score is or what the situation is.'"

Coming off his most frustrating year as a professional, Wright has led the way. Hitting well over .400 into mid-May despite his fractured left pinkie finger, the third baseman has compiled his best overall season at least since 2008 -- with a chance to make it a career-defining season, perhaps even an MVP year. Wright's power numbers may not be what they were in his mid-20s, but he is crushing the ball on a near-nightly basis while improving his defense from seasons past.

Then there is Dickey, whose back-to-back one-hitters in June proved that, at 37 years old, he is a better pitcher than he was at 35. Leading a rotation that has also received a renaissance season (not to mention a no-hitter) from Johan Santana and his surgically repaired left shoulder, Dickey has given the Mets a second unexpected ace.

First-half awards
MVP: David Wright Mr. Wright has been Mr. Everything for the Mets, leading the team in just about every meaningful offensive category.
Cy Young: R.A. Dickey When it's working, Dickey's low-80s knuckleball is one of the most baffling pitches in baseball history.
Rookie: Kirk Nieuwenhuis He has slumped lately, but Nieuwenhuis gave the Mets plenty of value earlier this year.
Top reliever: Bobby Parnell No longer relying on triple-digit heat, Parnell's improved mound maturity has provided results.
"He's the guy we need out there when times are tough for us," manager Terry Collins said. "He's getting us chances to win."

Not everything has been perfect in Flushing, of course; that's usually the way with teams pegged for a last-place finish. The bullpen, the one area general manager Sandy Alderson invested significant money to improve over the offseason, has been by far the worst in baseball. Consequently, that is the one area Alderson is most likely to patch before this month's non-waiver Trade Deadline.

The Mets could also use another right-handed bat, despite the fact that Jason Bay's return from the disabled list next week should help balance their lefty-skewed lineup. Too often this season, the Mets have been neutralized by left-handed pitchers. That spells extra trouble in the NL East, where lefties Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez, Mark Buehrle and others lurk on a nightly basis.

But mostly, Collins is thrilled with how his team has performed from April through July. The manager was in Kansas City for the All-Star Game, too, partially in a nod to how he has helped transform the Mets from a punchline -- David Letterman, Jon Stewart and others have taken their cracks -- to a contender. This is a team that was not supposed to think about competing until top pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler arrived on the scene. And yet here they are, Harvey-less and Wheeler-less, competing nonetheless.

Players to watch in second half
Johan Santana Santana has exceeded all expectations coming off shoulder surgery. Will he remain as durable in the second half?
Jason Bay If Bay can rebound from injuries and ineffectiveness, the Mets might not be so susceptible to left-handed pitchers.
Lucas Duda Duda's defense has been poor and his bat has not made up for it. It's only a matter of time before the Mets lose patience.
So in many ways, this season has already been a victory for the Mets, whom many expected to be a dozen or more games out of first place at this point. But the Mets have proven sometimes formidable and always spunky, injecting a little extra excitement into this season.

With their first half, they have ensured -- if nothing else -- that they will remain relevant into August. Couple that start with an extra Wild Card berth for each league, and the Mets are cautiously allowing themselves to think about October baseball for the first time since 2006.

"That's kind of been our mantra from the beginning," Dickey said. "We're not going to give up. We're not going to lay down. That's a great mantra to have, especially if it consistently plays out over the course of the year."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.