Collins all fired up: 'Huge' series vs. Braves

NEW YORK -- They're still double-digit games under .500, and double-digit games out of first place. They still haven't won a series from a team with a winning record in well over a month.

But after the New York Mets beat the equally struggling Texas Rangers 8-4 on Sunday, manager Terry Collins was quick to label the upcoming four-game series with the first-place Atlanta Braves as "huge."

Things are hardly all rosy with the Mets, who put one of their better starting pitchers on the disabled list Sunday because they basically decided he needs a midseason maintenance break. But at least the Mets don't expect Jon Niese to be out long (he's tentatively scheduled to return during the first series after the All-Star break), and at least they're replacing him with Dillon Gee (who was the most consistent starter before he got hurt in early May).

At least the Mets won a series from the Rangers, who lost seemingly half their team to injuries and are 24-41 since April 25. At least they got another encouraging performance from Zack Wheeler, who still needs to throw strikes more consistently but pitched into the seventh inning for the third time in his last four starts.

"We've got a young pitcher on our hands who's going to be really, really good," Collins said. "When he makes pitches, he gets outs. We know if he throws strikes, he's going to get outs.

"I think Zack Wheeler's going to be a great one."

Collins was noticeably upbeat, after a game in which the Mets scored five first-inning runs and were only briefly challenged. He spoke confidently about keeping most of his team together after this month's non-waiver trading deadline, and suggested that Niese should return stronger after two weeks without pitching.

"It's like I told him: 'You've got 15 starts left, so go out and go 12-3,'" Collins said.

That won't include a start against the Braves, at least not in this week's "huge" series.

"It's huge for us," Collins said. "Yeah, it's a big series."

Perhaps that sounds a little ambitious for a team that was swept last week in Atlanta.

But isn't it better than the malaise that so often surrounds the Mets?