By Rich Coutinho
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Throughout spring training, Johan Santana kept telling everyone that would listen that they should believe in the 2012 Mets. He said the rotation was better than people think. He said this team has a bunch of fighters led by their manager Terry Collins. He said the notion that the Mets would be doormats in the NL East was nonsense. And he used the word "believe" to illustrate that 2012 would be special in a plethora of ways.
Here we are in the first full week of July and the New York Mets -- you know that team that everyone just wanted to go away -- are very much a playoff contender. That's right I used the word playoffs Mets fans because this team has as good a shot as any NL East team to make it to the post-season party and here is why: The two-headed monster of R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana will prevent long losing streaks and extend short winning streaks.
Add in the emergence of Jonathan Niese who has seemed to turn the corner about four weeks ago and a healthy Chris Young who always pitches well when healthy and you just might have the second best rotation in the NL behind the San Francisco Giants.
Aside from David Wright, the offense has sputtered at times but it seems Ike Davis has found his stroke and Lucas Duda has been steady if not spectacular, while Daniel Murphy has also turned things around. This could spell trouble for the NL East because this rotation will not need a bunch of runs to win. Still, there are doubters out there who question the Mets ability to sustain this level of play and point to their thin bullpen as a chronic issue. I do agree that the bullpen has cost them games but at six games over .500 this team has withstood that and multitude of other obstacles to get them to where they are.
Those same critics also pointed to a June schedule in which they would play 7-of-8 June series against the upper echelon of the sport -- the Yankees, the Rays, the Reds, the Dodgers, the Orioles, and the Nats. Every one of those teams was labeled as superior to the Mets by the "so-called experts" and what did the Mets do? They emerged from this 28 game stretch at 15-13. I would say that they not only survived the stretch but improved their place in the standings through this tough month of June. They certainly did not do it the easy way -- getting swept by the Yanks and then sweeping the Rays for instance -- but nonetheless the report card is very good.
And look what happened to the rest of the NL East in that stretch. The mighty Phils are in the basement -- you know the residence the Mets were supposed to be relegated to according to the media. In fact, those mighty Phils trail the METS by 7.5 games in the standings and the Marlins who were supposed to be the toast of the town by spending megabucks in the off-season are four games behind the Mets. I would venture to guess not one person thought on July 2 the Mets would reside in second place in the NL East just 3.5 games behind the division's penthouse while sharing the lead for that second NL wild card spot.
But I will tell you the 25 guys in that Mets clubhouse always thought the baseball world had it all wrong. And as we head to the All Star Break, Sandy Alderson will have the flexibility to add a right-handed bat or help make over the back end of the Mets bullpen. I would not expect a dramatic acquisition but I would expect him to land a solid if not spectacular addition to a Mets team that has always had its own script for the 2012 season. And it was all because of that one word --believe.
Well, are the Mets for real? Leave a comment below.
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