Mets' outlook hinges on Phillies series

WASHINGTON -- They lose seven straight games and, suddenly, the 50th edition of the New York Mets is as feeble as its historically bad 1962 counterpart. They win five straight and watch out Philadelphia. (Well, not quite, but allow some hyperbole.)

Last year, three members of the team did not attend the Mets' annual visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, along with just-promoted Dillon Gee. This year, relievers Taylor Buchholz and Francisco Rodriguez did not attend, making the turnout near-identical. Yet 2010 was a travesty and 2011 is celebrated.

The bottom line: It's all about portrayal and perception.

The truth, of course, is always somewhere in the middle -- which is right where the Mets may end up in the standings when all is said and done, unless they trade off major pieces before July 31, in which case all bets are off.

Although the Mets are 5-0 since Jason Bay returned, he alone did not cause that result. Plenty had to do with facing the back end of the Arizona Diamondbacks' rotation, then visiting Washington, which figures to be neck-and-neck at the back end of the NL East with the Mets when all is said and done.

Still, it is never as good or as bad as it seems. If the Mets run into a buzz saw this weekend in Philadelphia, when the pitching matchups are Mike Pelfrey vs. Joe Blanton, Jon Niese vs. Roy Halladay and Chris Young vs. Cliff Lee, the positive feelings about the team may again disappear.

It's worth noting there are positives and not just negatives with the Mets.

Scouts believe in the Mets' lineup, especially now that Bay is back. They actually marvel at the production of first baseman Ike Davis, who has a career-high eight-game hitting streak despite hitting sixth and not benefiting from the lineup protection afforded David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Bay.

Beltran, too, has been a positive after a rusty start. When he needed to bust into third on Tuesday night after Washington right fielder Jayson Werth did not cleanly field his double, Beltran did so. And even his outs were mostly hard hit in the series opener, including a shot to right-center that required a stellar, hustling grab by Rick Ankiel.

Another plus: Before Young departed after 4 2/3 innings Tuesday, Mets starting pitchers had contributed at least six innings in six straight starts. That has made the bullpen look better, too.

"The starting pitching came together -- going six, seven, eight innings," said Buchholz, who tossed two scoreless relief innings against the Nationals on Tuesday. "And then everyone kind of found their role now. We're all prepared to go into the game when that situation comes up, which makes the biggest difference."

Said manager Terry Collins: "I just think it's a great game. It's amazing how all of a sudden things just start turning your way. You get a ball that bounces your way that somebody caught it the week before."

Collins even pointed to Tuesday's final play. The throw from Wright at third base happened to be off line, but Davis came off the bag at first base and applied a tag on Danny Espinosa to complete the 6-4 win.

"Two weeks ago the guy slides and he's safe and all hell breaks loose," Collins said.