- Adam Rubin, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- The Mets closed the first half with a .615 winning percentage over their final 26 games, buoyed by solid corner outfield production from Marlon Byrd and Eric Young Jr. and stellar rotation contributions from Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee to complement the hyped young studs.
That has the Mets feeling better about themselves as they prepare to open the second half Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field -- even though it would require a massive climb to overcome their double-digit deficit against either the Cincinnati Reds for the second wild card or the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown.
"You've got to be optimistic," manager Terry Collins said. "It's going to take continuing to play well."
Among the questions to be answered by the Mets (41-50) over the final 71 games:
Will Matt Harvey continue his Cy Young-caliber season after tossing two scoreless innings in the All-Star Game? Or will the workload of a full season at the major league level cause him to slow down in the late summer, even with the Mets capping his innings at about 220?
Can Zack Wheeler be No. 1A in the rotation, as his final first-half start in San Francisco illustrated is within his potential?
What will happen at the trade deadline? And will that mean the Mets sacrifice some competitiveness in 2013 for a brighter future?
Can Ike Davis re-establish himself as the first baseman of the future? Or will a combination of Josh Satin and Lucas Duda -- and Davis' own performance, more importantly -- lead Davis to become non-tendered in December?
Is Ruben Tejada really now just another September call-up?
Will the Mets actually see catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud after rosters expand?
And what happens to Collins, who is in the final year of his contract, after all of this is said and done?
The Mets' pitching clearly has been a primary reason for their turnaround. In fact, their 2.90 ERA in July ranks fifth in the majors.
Harvey, the All-Star starter, currently sits at 130 innings. And it's no revelation to say he is a legitimate ace. Still, Collins wonders what type of gas Harvey will have remaining late in the season. The Mets expect to give Harvey 14 second-half starts. They may skip him a couple of times, while shaving a few innings in some outings.
The rotation will get another shot in the arm in about three weeks. Left-hander Jonathon Niese is expected to return from a rotator cuff injury in early August. He currently is long-tossing a baseball at about 120 feet in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Collins, meanwhile, portrays the recent contributions from Hefner and Gee as no fluke.
"I think they can sustain it," the manager said. "I think we're catching the ball better, and therefore we're pitching better. Somebody hits it good and we're running it down. I think it's made a difference."
GM Sandy Alderson has not dismissed trading Byrd, or anyone for that matter. But Alderson has made it clear there is a desire to finish strongly. So the Mets will need to be enticed with something substantial for 2014 and beyond in order to part with a current player.
"If we make a deal, if Sandy moves somebody, it's in the best interests of our team," Collins said. "Right now Marlon Byrd is a huge piece. If Marlon Byrd gets moved, we're going to get something good back, I can tell you."
Assuming no one departs via trade, one fascinating thing to watch will be what happens once Duda is ready to return from an intercostal muscle strain on his left side. After all, the Mets have benefited from strong corner outfield play from Young and Byrd. Do they really want to risk going backward by re-establishing Duda as an outfielder?
"That's something we're certainly going to have to figure out when he's ready to come back -- where he's going to fit and how we're going to use him, and how we're going to juggle the whole outfield situation," Collins said.
Conceivably, if Davis' struggles persist, Duda and Satin could become a first-base platoon. That would signal Davis' future with the organization is on extremely shaky ground.
Davis is making $3.1 million this season and again is eligible for arbitration next offseason. If he is not going to produce, his salary is starting to rise to a level that could lead to a fate similar to Mike Pelfrey's non-tendering last December.
"Those are all legitimately tough questions," Collins said. "I have no answers for them right now.
"Ike's a big piece. And if he doesn't come around, we've got to try to win as many as we can. I want to get him to the point where he was last year, but if it's going to take time, we've got to make some adjustments. He's got enough major league at-bats. We should be able to evaluate him fairly fast."
On Satin, Collins added, "We've got a guy here who has shown he deserves to get in the lineup. We're going to get him in there. If we can't get Ike going, we certainly have got to get Josh Satin some playing time."
There are certainly parallels between Davis and Tejada, who now is off a rehab assignment and officially a minor leaguer. The Mets have expressed displeasure with Tejada's annual on-base percentage decline (.360 in 2011, to .333 in 2012, to .267 pre-demotion this year). Coupled with diminished range, Tejada may be no more than a September call-up at this point.
Tejada should eventually be teammates with d'Arnaud in Las Vegas. The top catching prospect, who fractured the first metatarsal in his left foot in mid-April, is due to gain clearance from team doctors Monday to begin playing in minor league games.
Other potential September call-ups: infielder Wilmer Flores, center fielder Matt den Dekker, left-handed relievers Jack Leathersich and Robert Carson and catcher Francisco Pena.
How all those issues resolve themselves, and how successful the Mets are in the second half, will help determine whether Collins returns for 2014.
Given that the Mets have remained competitive while outgunned and the fact that they have played hard, it would appear, at least right now, more likely than not that Collins remains in the dugout beyond this season. But the Mets have faded in previous years.
"This entire team is about guys who have stepped up when we've asked them to," Collins said. "Be it [Carlos] Torres, be it Hefner, Marlon Byrd, Omar Quintanilla, Anthony Recker, there's been guys who have stepped up and had good games when we needed somebody to have a good game. It's made a big difference.
"Right now, the attitude is great. The guys are upbeat and positive about the way they're playing. Hopefully it continues to take off in the second half."
1dKevin Van Valkenburg