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Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Second half: Five reasons to watch

By Mark Simon

Harvey & Wheeler & Wright
Matt Harvey. Zack Wheeler. David Wright. Those are three reasons to watch the Mets right there.
Here are five reasons for optimism as the Mets get set to start the second half of the season.

1. They look like a different team: Since the June 18 doubleheader in Atlanta, the Mets are 16-10, have outscored the opposition 127-98 and have gone 7-3 and 6-3 on consecutive road trips.

Within that span, they are tied for the fifth-best record in the majors and have the best mark in the NL East. They’re not postseason contenders just yet (for the record, they’re nine and a half games out of the second wild card and 11 games from the division lead), but they no longer look comparable to the Miami Marlins or Houston Astros.

2. The starting pitching: The future is now, or at least a lot closer to now for what the Mets pitching staff is probably going to look like for the long term.

Matt Harvey looks like an ace in the early stages of being a Curt Schilling/Justin Verlander type. Zack Wheeler is going to have his ups and downs, but the ups looked pretty good in Atlanta and San Francisco.

Jeremy Hefner has the best ERA in the majors over the past six weeks and looks as though he could be a valuable piece at the back end of the rotation.

Jonathon Niese's injury turned out not to be season-ending, and maybe he comes back the way he was pitching in the few starts before the injury. Dillon Gee seems to have recently regained the form that led some to call him one of the best No. 4-5 pitchers in the game.

And as far as the future goes, you had to like what you saw in the brief glimpse of Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero in the Futures Game.

3. The new leadoff hitter: He might not be Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra or Jose Reyes, but Eric Young Jr. has given the Mets a dimension they didn’t have the last season and a half.

Young has a .380 on-base percentage, 17 runs scored, nine extra-base hits and eight steals in his first 24 games with the Mets. He’s shown a willingness (along with Josh Satin) to work a long at-bat, and he’s basically a guarantee to go first to third on a hit to right field.

The swap of Collin McHugh for Young isn’t quite a steal of Robert Person-for-John Olerud proportions just yet, but maybe this will be looked back on in a couple years as being a particularly noteworthy acquisition of the Sandy Alderson regime.

4. The captain: We noted it in our first-half report card and it bears repeating. If there was any concern that David Wright was going to try too hard to live up to his $100 million contract this season, you can wipe that away.

As Matt Meyers pointed out, Wright is having what could be his best season as a Met.

And he’s done so not just in performance, but with little things, like taking Wheeler out to dinner the night before his first start, then getting Wheeler to laugh on the mound after he walked the first two big league hitters he faced (we expect something similar when Travis d'Arnaud is finally healthy). And calling a players-only meeting when the season was sinking not long ago.

Wright has talked the talk and walked the walk. He’s hitting .327 with a .419 on-base percentage, 10 doubles and four homers in his last 24 games. Now the Mets need to put some better hitters around him.

5. They’re always interesting: The Mets may not always be fun to watch, but they’re interesting to watch, even beyond the “that’s so Mets” one-liner so popular on Twitter.

They were the first team to play four games of at least 15 innings before the All-Star break. They’re in almost every game (10 of the past 11 losses have been by two runs or fewer). And they have some young talent with a lot of potential to be great.

What’s not to like?