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To 2015 and Beyond!

Sandy Alderson insisted losing two out of three to the Nationals didn’t have anything to do with Friday’s developments in Metland, but let’s not kid ourselves.

Wilmer Flores [1] is going to be the guy at shortstop, not Ruben Tejada [2]. Lucas Duda [3] is going to play against tough lefties. Kirk Nieuwenhuis [4] was going to be the guy in left, except Chris Young [5] is now unemployed, so Matt den Dekker [6] is going to be the guy in left, with Kirk rotating between outfield positions. Alderson made all that pretty clear after Friday night’s game, while offering a fig leaf that it’s Terry Collins [7]‘ decision. Judging by too many of Terry’s lineups earlier this year and his bizarre comments about not having time to develop players, I hope this time the manager understands it’s not really his decision and his most important job for the rest of the year is … to develop players.

So the Mets have resigned from the pennant race [8]. Never have I been happier with a withdrawal.

The Mets weren’t going to win in 2014. Once upon a time that would have been obvious. Now, with two wild cards, you can pretend otherwise. A few teams pretty much know they’re in unless they blow it (we know what that’s like), a few teams know they’re roadkill, and everybody else is left to argue that their glass is this or that fraction full/empty. The Mets could have trudged along in that philosophical limbo, but after getting spanked by an imperfect but clearly superior opponent they stopped pretending and started thinking about 2015.

Standing in a dreary beige hallway beneath Citizens Bank Park, Alderson had a pretty interesting comment about the youth movement. He said it wasn’t just about committing to young players, but also about making an investment in those players by giving them a 150-at-bat head start on 2015. I hadn’t ever heard it put quite that way, and it struck me as smart. Also smart: showcasing the likes of Flores, Nieuwenhuis and den Dekker for teams that might be looking to pick them up in August or during the offseason — those additional ABs can be an audition/investment for other general managers too. (As for finally accepting that Young was a sunk cost, eh. It was only a one-year deal, and struck me as a worthy gamble, but I sure wish the Mets had walked away in June.)

The Mets aren’t going to win, but I feel better about them than I have in years. They’ve got plenty of starting pitching, enough to trade for things they don’t have. They’ve got a bullpen going through growing pains, but that’s capable more often than not. They’ve got three hitters in Duda, Juan Lagares [9] and Travis d’Arnaud [10] who’ve taken steps this year to convince you they can be solid big-league regulars. And they’ve got bats in the minors that could help as soon as next summer. They’re not that far away — so the best use of their August and September is clearly trying to accelerate the timetable, rather than chasing the unlikeliest of playoff hopes.

So what’s the wish list for the rest of the year? I’d love for them to finish at .500, which is a tall order (they’d have to go 27-19) but a worthy goal. Failing that, though, my only wish — for all of us — is patience. Give Flores a real shot at short, and be understanding if sometimes or a lot of the time he looks like the guy every scout said couldn’t play the position. Let’s see den Dekker in left, Ks and all, instead of Eric Young [11] Jr. providing a spark outs. (In fact, why not just release Young too and call up Andrew Brown [12]?) Shake your head when Jeurys Familia [13] or Vic Black [14] hit a bump, instead of taking to Twitter in a frothing rage. We’re investing here; a good investor keeps his or her eye on the long term and doesn’t get too caught up in the daily ups and downs.

That doesn’t mean seven weeks of mulish endurance, though. A team of young guys playing for jobs can be a lot of fun to watch. That’s also true of milestones achieved by old guys [15]: Bartolo Colon [16] pocketed his 200th career win tonight, joining Juan Marichal [17] and Pedro Martinez [18] as the third Dominican-born pitchers to reach that number. (Not the way I would have categorized it, but clearly it mattered to Bartolo, so good enough for me.)

For most of the night it looked like Colon would waltz to his milestone, if you can imagine Bartolo waltzing. He handled the moribund Phillies with ease, while the Mets smacked around A.J. Burnett [19]. Colon had thrown 107 pitches after eight innings, and with a 5-1 lead I was hoping he’d go back out there for the complete game so I could see his reaction. But instead Collins opted for Dana Eveland [20] to face Chase Utley [21] and Ryan Howard [22], to everyone’s immediate regret. Utley doubled and Howard walked, and on came Jenrry Mejia [23], who gave up a single to old friend Marlon Byrd [24] and then a long drive to Grady Sizemore [25] that just missed being a game-tying grand slam.

With Collins rehearsing his excuses, Mejia got a little help and started trading runs for outs. No, actually Mejia got a lot of help: Curtis Granderson [26] flopped on his back to make a sliding catch against Carlos Ruiz [27] as a hatless Daniel Murphy [28] ran past him. Duda then made a nice pickup at first to retire Cody Asche [29], and finally Mejia retired Reid Brignac [30] on a nifty outside change-up/inside fastball combination, the first pitch aided by a generous strike zone from Mike Winters.

As milestones go, Colon recording his 200th win in blue and orange is one for the “Oh that’s right” file rather than the sidewalk outside Citi Field. I had forgotten that Pedro recorded No. 200 as a Met in 2006 or that Orel Hershiser [31] had done so in 1999. I’ve blocked out T@m Gl@v!ne’s 300th win. Gary Sheffield [32]‘s 500th home run and Eddie Murray [33]‘s 400th made similarly shallow impressions. That’s because all of those guys are much more memorable for what they did in other uniforms, a description that will almost certainly apply to Colon, too. But that’s all right: Years from now, when Matt Harvey [34]‘s going for his 200th win, perhaps we’ll see a clip of Colon tonight and smile to remember that was in the early days of Mejia’s residency as closer, or Flores’s tenure at shortstop, or just before Duda found the confidence that would fuel his monster seasons. Maybe we’ll see the investments, and appreciate the future that was starting to be written.

And if not, well, 200’s a nice round number and beating the Phillies is a nice way to spend a Friday evening.