200 Miles From the Citi

April 29, 2010 6:00 AM

First Place - But For How Long?


While I've been busy waxing poetic about the Mets' new ballpark, the Mets have been getting pretty cozy with Citi Field themselves.

A 9-1 homestand capped by seven straight wins has the Mets in first place heading into a weekend series in Philadelphia.

Everything has been going right for the Mets lately - including who they've played - which is why I'm a little cautious that though the Mets could end April in first place in the division, they may not end the season there.

First a little bit about what's going right for the Mets.

The players they need to hit are hitting.  David Wright (who, as you see at left, doubled Wednesday to become the Mets' all-time doubles leader) has found his stroke, Jason Bay has broken out of his season-opening slump, and Jose Reyes seems to be comfortable enough hitting in the third spot in the order.  I hate to point to Ike Davis as a turning point...but maybe it's no coincidence that the Mets went on this run after Mike Jacobs was let go.  It's almost like Jacobs is an albatross around the neck of a team; if you have him at first you're a losing team.  And once he was gone, the Mets realized, "Hey, we're not the Royals.  We can actually win."

The pitching has been effective too - and every time a starting pitcher has struggled, the bullpen has been there to bail him out...especially Hisanori Takahashi, who has had two All-Star caliber relief appearances in the past four days.  I caution you this, though - the Mets' starters, as good as they have been, are still walking way too many batters.

And that's where there's a bit of a caveat to what the Mets are doing right now.  A lot of opportunities for the opposition were left on the field this past week or so.  Don't get me wrong - I am absolutely loving it.  But the Cubs seem to have woken up a bit since they got beat up by the Mets - they played some sloppy ball when they were in New York.  So did the Braves - they should be a better team than what they showed last weekend.  And the Dodgers are a mess right now.  The good news is, the Mets took advantage of these teams going through some tough times and picked up a bunch of wins.  But will it continue?  The Mets are about to find out, embarking on what could be their most important stretch of the season:

3 games at Philadelphia:  The Mets can show that the past 10 games haven't been a fluke by winning in the place that represents all that has torn the Mets down the past three years.

3 at Cincinnati: A short road trip is capped in Cincinnati, where the Mets should win a series from a team they should be better than.

3 vs. San Francisco:  The Giants are hitting their stride and might be the best team in the National League.  A good measuring stick series for the Mets.

3 vs. Washington:  The Nationals are better this year, but it was embarrassing for the Mets to lose two out of three to them earlier this month.  The Mets have a chance to bounce back here.

4 at Florida:  The only 4-game series in this stretch against a team that gave the Mets trouble in the second and third games this season.

2 at Atlanta, 2 at Washington:  Same deal as above with the Nationals, and with the Braves, the Mets have to show that they are legitimately better than the Braves, especially in Atlanta, which has given the Mets fits for more than a decade.

3 vs. Yankees:  City bragging rights, not to mention another series against a very good team.

3 vs. Phillies:  The stretch ends against the team it began with, the Phillies.

If the Mets are still ahead of Philadelphia at this point, we have our answer - they're for real.

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