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A Bump in the Road to Somewhere

Honesty compels me to admit it wasn’t really Mike Pelfrey’s fault.

My 2011 designated scapegoat [1] pitched OK; his teammates let him down with a second straight evening of shaky defense and a distressing inability to collect hits when they were most needed. The Beard wound up Feared, the Mets lost [2], and a West Coast trip that started a giddy 3-0 ended up a more meh 4-3. Which isn’t bad for a West Coast swing even when you’ve got a complete club, and is nothing to hang one’s head about. But after that 3-0 start … well, 5-2 would have felt a whole lot better, wouldn’t it?

And so the calendrical first half is done, and the Mets disperse until Friday, when they will have to march straight into the blur of bullets and sharp objects that is the Phillies. They’re 46-45, 7 1/2 games shy of a wild-card berth with three teams between them and the Braves.

What to make of that? Well, 7 1/2 out seems like a long way to go, particularly the Braves looking like an awfully good club. (I’m not even thinking about that 11-game gulf separating the Mets and the Phils.) On the other hand, the Mets are without Johan Santana, David Wright, Ike Davis and Jose Reyes — but today, in a reversal of the usual Metsian narrative, they got rather encouraging news on all four of the missing. Johan is soon to begin throwing BP to actual players, Wright is headed for a minor-league assignment, Ike has been running and Jose’s hamstring seems to be on the mend. With all the talk of potential player moves, the Mets stand to significantly upgrade two roster spots within the next couple of weeks, with two other upgrades a possibility within a month or so. Meanwhile, they’ve seen encouraging campaigns from the likes of Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Justin Turner, Bobby Parnell and Jonathon Niese, all players who seem to have made strides beyond what we thought we had in them at the beginning of the season.

Sure, we still have those larger uncertainties, starting with the question of the Wilpons’ roster spots and what level of success on the field and at the turnstiles David Einhorn would like to see. Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran could be on the move and Jose Reyes could be headed into an orange-and-blue sunset at year’s end. If the Mets get mauled by the Phillies next weekend, sink back below .500 and are soon 10 behind the Braves, the team could and probably should look very different in early August, in which case those three straight wins against the Dodgers will be tinged with melancholy.

But who knows? Disaster seemed in the cards when the club was 5-13, but they’re 41-32 since then despite taking more body blows than a Monty Python knight. They play hard for Terry Collins and seem to have internalized Dave Hudgens’ advice, more often than not working tough counts and getting good pitches to hit. They’re undermanned and sitting on shaky fiscal underpinnings, no doubt. But they’re also reliably fun to watch. They feel like more than the sum of their parts, even if some of those parts are factory seconds or have been bashed into spaces where they don’t quite fit.

If you’d told me when the Mets were 5-13 that before the All-Star Break they’d be stripped of David and Ike and Reyes, I might have canceled my cable and yanked my Internet connection right then, retreating to a dark room with a stack of ’69 and ’86 DVDs and a message for someone to come get me when the whole depressing ownership mess had been sorted out. But instead the Mets are still bobbing along, surrounded by intriguing possibilities as well as agonizing ones. Four Metless days might have been expected to feel like a respite; instead, I wish Friday would hurry up already so I can have them back.