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Friday, June 17, 2011
Mets playing well ... maybe too well

By Adam Rubin
ESPNNewYork.com

ATLANTA -- Two hours before the first pitch Thursday at Turner Field, as the New York Mets awaited an opportunity to sweep the Atlanta Braves, manager Terry Collins was continuing his efforts to bond with his players. Collins huddled with Jose Reyes at the shortstop's locker, watching Reyes show off his reggaeton singing on a professional-quality video.

Hours later, after closer Francisco Rodriguez had blown his first save since Opening Day against Florida, snapping a string of 19 straight conversions, and after D.J. Carrasco had balked in the game-deciding run in a 9-8, 10-inning loss, Collins had a broader audience in the clubhouse.

Collins' message to his players: "We just said, 'Hey, look, we won the series. We won two out of three. We've got to go home. We've got to win the next two out of three.'"

Baseball teams, like college classes, are graded on a curve. By the standard of performance versus payroll, the Mets are woeful underperformers, given that $140 million or so will be shelled out this season to players. But watch the Mets and you understand the reality is quite different. The Mets play hard. They overachieve.

That is not to suggest that being a game under .500 is some cause for celebration. Thursday's loss prevented the Mets from having a winning record for the first time since April 6. But looking at the talent level versus the rest of the division, and understanding that the current solid performance is occurring without the injured David Wright and Ike Davis and Johan Santana, and there certainly is an appreciation for the accomplishments of the 2011 Mets.

"It doesn't sour it," Collins insisted about the complexion of a 6-4 road trip that would have been 7-3 if not for K-Rod's blown save. "We won the series here. We won the series in Milwaukee. We split in Pittsburgh. We had a good road trip. We've got to take the positives and go home with them."

Truth be told, the Mets are performing a little too well, unless they really are intent on making a serious and unexpected run at the wild card, which seems too good to be true. General manager Sandy Alderson cannot break up a team that's within 4½ games of the wild card, meaning that if the Mets can hang in the race for the next six weeks -- still a big if -- it could actually be to the Mets' detriment.

Terry Collins
Terry Collins is doing his best to develop a bond with his players.
Why? Because, for instance, the Mets may be obligated to hold on to Carlos Beltran if they are somehow in contention rather than deal the right fielder before the July 31 deadline.

And that means he walks at the end of the year with no compensation -- not even draft picks -- as opposed to getting some package in return midseason. (Beltran's contract reportedly includes a clause forbidding the Mets from offering arbitration, which is the vehicle by which compensatory draft picks are obtained if the player then signs elsewhere. Even if that did not exist, Beltran could not be offered arbitration anyway, since he might just accept and leave the Mets on the hook for a salary approaching $20 million for 2012.)

Still, you might as well appreciate the Mets' success, and leave the quiet rooting for failure to David Einhorn, whose chances of becoming majority owner improve every time the Wilpons bleed another dollar.

"We go home and we're playing two teams we're not very familiar with," Collins said, referring to the Angels and Athletics in interleague play. "We've got to start playing better at our ballpark. Everybody comes into our park, and it should be strange to them. It's a big place, and we should use it to our advantage. We have not done that yet."

Meanwhile, despite Thursday's unusual balk-off loss against the Braves, Collins' message seemed to resonate.

"We won the series. We shouldn't be quiet right now," center fielder Angel Pagan said, echoing his manager's words. "We beat them at their house. We'll take that. We obviously lost tonight's game, but we have to move on. We've got some home games to play, and we've got to win there too."