Mets Hope 2010 NL East Race Has Better Ending Than Previous Years

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Mets Hope 2010 NL East Race Has Better Ending Than Previous Years In 2007, the Mets blew a seven-game lead to the Phillies in the NL East with 17 games to play. It was the biggest regular-season choke in the history of baseball, and fans in Queens haven’t recovered since.

Neither have the Mets.

In 2008, New York had a 3 1/2-game lead on Sept. 10. The Mets blew that one to the Phillies, too.

In 2009, hampered by injuries and searching for some kind of team identity, the Mets finished 70-92, 23 games behind Philadelphia with their worst record since 2003 (66-95).

But this year, thanks some unlikely heroes, the Mets are 46-37 entering Tuesday’s game against the Res, just two games behind the Braves in the East and back in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Mike Pelfrey (10-3, 3.39 ERA) and Johan Santana (5-5, 3.32 ERA) have anchored a Mets pitching staff that sports a 3.87 ERA, seventh-best in the majors. While those two have certainly been dominant at times in 2010, the contributions of two lesser-known hurlers have kept the Mets in contention this season.

Thirty-five-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has shocked the baseball world so far, going 6-1 with a 2.62 ERA in nine starts for the Mets. With a career ERA of 5.10 (including his superb performance this year), nobody could have predicted that Dickey, who was originally drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by Texas in 1996, would be making such an impact.

Then there’s Jonathon Niese, who has made exceptional strides in his first full season in the big leagues. The 23-year-old southpaw is 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA in 14 starts.

On offense, the Mets have been pretty good, considering that All-Star center fielder Carlos Beltran has missed the entire season so far, and shortstop Jose Reyes has played through a nagging oblique injury all year. New York is fourth in the NL with 387 runs and sixth in hitting with a .261 team average.

Just like the pitching staff, the lineup has delivered some big hits in clutch spots, and they’ve come from guys you wouldn’t think would make a huge impact in 2010. Catcher Rod Barajas has 11 homers, first baseman Ike Davis drove in 19 runs in June and Jeff Francoeur has resurrected his career with 42 RBIs.

But it’s been third baseman David Wright, the heart and soul of the Mets, who has carried the load. Wright is fifth in the NL with a .318 average, third in hits with 98 and first in RBIs with 64. In June, Wright hit .404 with an astounding 1.130 OPS.

The Mets are shaping up to have a good year in 2010, and it only appears as if it’s going to get better. Reyes made his return to the lineup on Tuesday night after missing the previous six games. When he’s at the top of his game, there are few better shortstops in all of baseball.

Forgotten in all the fun is prized free-agent acquisition Jason Bay. One year after winning a Silver Slugger Award with the Red Sox, Bay has just six homers and an .804 OPS (74 points below his career average) with New York. Mets fans should be optimistic about Bay for the second half, though. The left fielder had 16 homers and a .939 OPS after the All-Star break last year.

Let’s also not forget that Beltran, a five-time All-Star and .283 career hitter, will be making his triumphant return to Citi Field this season.

When the Mets are healthy, there’s no doubt that they’re one of the best teams in the National League. If they can get their core players back in action, and possibly acquire another arm (Cliff Lee, anyone?) at the trade deadline, the Mets will be deadly heading down the stretch.

Then again, Mets fans have seen this story before, and it wasn’t pretty the first or second time.

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