By Rich Coutinho
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The Mets were supposed to be way under .500 by now. Some of their players were supposed to have been traded by now. Citi Field was supposed to be a ghost town by now. Injuries were supposed to wear them down by now.

The Mets were not supposed to matter by now.

Well, it looks like someone forgot to tell Terry Collins’ squad. They do matter and yes, Mets fans, you are in a playoff race.

Every time you think this team has absorbed too much they bounce off the canvass, ready to slug it out. Early in the season, most Mets fans I know fed into the negativity — even though I told you this was an 85-win team — and that was with the services of Ike Davis and David Wright. A 5-13 start is horrendous for any team, but for a Mets club  trying to establish themselves as more than an afterthought, it was disastrous — or so we were told.

All the Mets have done in the 68 games since is play 10-games over .500. That’s much more indicative of their overall play than that miserable 18-game stretch at the start of the season.

What’s been really impressive is the way the Mets play away from Citi Field. No team in the National League has won more road games than the Mets. They have recently taken road series in Milwaukee, Atlanta, Texas and Detroit, playing all four when they were red-hot. The Amazin’s are in the midst of a 16-game stretch that was supposed end their season with four road series sandwiched between a three-game set against the Yankees. They responded by going 7-4 so far, showing their resiliency and toughness on a game-in, game-out basis.

We all know how much Jose Reyes has meant to this team’s success. Mets fans may think without him in the lineup, even for a few days, things might unravel. But they have not. Angel Pagan has stepped into the leadoff spot and come up with some big hits while Carlos Beltran and a rejuvenated Jason Bay have taken care of the run production. Meanwhile, the starting rotation has continued to impress, allowing the Mets to do more with less. The bullpen also suddenly has depth with Pedro Beato and Bobby Parnell assuming bigger roles in the late innings.

Of course, when you pick up the paper all you see is trade talk: the Mets are talking to this team or that team. That doesn’t mean the Mets are preparing to trade anybody just yet. All it means is Sandy Alderson is doing what every general manager should be come July — testing the waters.

Make no mistake about it: the Mets are less anxious than ever to make a deal or several. The team is winning. The front office is keenly aware of the public perception — this team is in a playoff race, and this group is easy to root for.

The Mets pulled in some good crowds for the last two homestands — granted some of that was due to Subway Series — but how do you explain the numbers they got against the A’s? I think fans like this team because they are flawed, but boy do they hustle and play the game right. Whether it is because players are in contract years or whether it is because they are a bunch of young players trying to carve out a career, there is no denying this team plays tough for Collins. Everyone in that clubhouse is contributing.

The question remains: where is the ceiling for this team? That’s hard to say, but why is it so unbelievable to think the Mets will play at the same level for their next 68 games? That would put them at 83-71 with 8 games left in the season. I have said all year that 88 wins will snare the NL Wild Card. So you do the math.

At 5-3 in their last 8, the Mets could sneak in and grab it. And that’s just playing at their present level — not accounting for the addition of Wright or any contribution from Johan Santana.

Now, you can choose to immerse yourself in Mets trade talk or you can enjoy watching this hard-nosed team — a club that amazin’ly refuses to believe they are doomed. You make the call.

Are you with Coutinho? Make your case in the comments below…

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