NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins isn't one to put modest expectations on his team. As strong an achievement as a .500 record would be for the team this season, he isn't forthright to set that as the goal.
But Collins realizes just why people wonder if it is. More than halfway through the season, New York sits just nine games below .500.
"We went into last year, people thought we were going to lose 100 games. We came into this year -- we were even supposed to be worse than last year," Collins said. "I think if you finish, look up and you're 81-81, that's ... an achievement."
It could have seemed unattainable even last month. On June 15, the Mets sat at just 24-39, a season-worst 15 games below .500. But since the start of July, New York has been reinvigorated.
The Mets split a four-game set with the National League West-leading D-backs to start the month, and then took two of three from the Brewers before sweeping the defending World Series champion Giants and ending the first half with a win over the 56-win Pirates. A 6-3 road trip to end the first half has put the Mets closer to .500 with 71 games to play.
It's never been the play on the road that's been the issue for New York, though. The Mets are 24-23 on the road, the third-best record in the NL, and their 123 runs since Father's Day are the most in the league. To make that push at .500, they need to defend their home field.
During the All-Star Game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy came to a realization about Citi Field. As he managed his NL squad to a shutout loss, he realized what Collins has known for some time.
"This is a tough place to score," Bochy said to Collins, who was on the NL All-Star staff.
"Really?" Collins responded, with his usual tinge of sarcasm.
With a suddenly potent offense that doesn't play well in the style its own park lends itself to, it's caused some trouble.
"If you're going to score big runs here, you've got to have some power," Collins said. "As we saw earlier in the first half, when we hit the ball out of the ballpark, we've won games here. If you don't have power, you'd better be athletic. That means you've better be able to run. That's the one thing we think we've made improvements on."
With first baseman Ike Davis struggling and Lucas Duda injured, New York has been without its two most powerful bats for extended stretches, and with just 16 home runs between them, they haven't done much when in the lineup. The Mets have needed to find other ways to score.
The Mets added Eric Young in a trade with the Rockies on June 19, and he's since become a staple in the outfield. In his month with the team, he's started all 25 games in either left or center field, and batted .308 with eight stolen bases and 17 runs scored entering Friday.
"That should help us here," Collins said. "Now we've got guys that can score on a single. We don't have to just hit home runs."
Collins isn't so worried about this year, though, as much as he is about next year and the years after that. This year is still about making sure the young guys are prepared for next season.
Still, .500 would undoubtedly mean something -- maybe not in the grand scheme of things, but as a short-term step. He still likes to think loftier, but those are goals for the future.
"The only thing I want to make sure is that we can compete and we get those younger players better," Collins said. "That's what's going to make 2014 be a fun year."
Chris Iseman and David Wilson are associate reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.