By Rich Coutinho
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When the Mets convened in Port St. Lucie, all you heard was doom and gloom about them. Jose Reyes was gone and the team did not add any significant players which meant it would be a long season. One media member even suggested to me the Mets would lose more than 100 games.

After hearing all of this, I decided to do something outrageous — check the team out in spring training and rather than follow all of the negativity, make up my own mind. What I saw was a healthy Johan Santana, a focused and determined Daniel Murphy, and a bona-fide team leader in David Wright. And when I left Port St. Lucie, I felt they were better than a .500 team and with a little luck, could be even better than that.

After 44 games, the Mets are four games over .500, have played .500 ball on the road, and are 15-6 in games decided by two runs or less. They have had their share of injuries but have gotten great support from a vastly underrated farm system most experts thought would be of no help to the team until Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler arrived in Flushing. They have been a clutch hitting team leading the majors in two-out RBI’s and never show any signs of panic when trailing late in a game. And they have done all of this with a spotty bullpen coupled with the struggles of Ike Davis whom they were counting on heavily for offensive contributions.

One of the big reasons why this team has exceeded expectations is that Terry Collins and his coaching staff have done a tremendous job of motivating this group on a day-to-day basis. This club has had their share of tough losses but after those losses, they have responded in a big way. Everytime this team falls close to .500 they run off a couple of wins usually catalyzed by a Johan Santana gem. But that what makes this week so different. It was Santana who gave up the lead on Monday night but R.A. Dickey and Jonathan Niese pitched superbly backed up by a bullpen that shut the door. These days, it seems like there is a different Mets hero every day whether it be Bobby Parnell or Tim Brydak or even Frank Francisco who has saved three games in the last four days.

That is what makes this team so much fun to watch. They bounce back after tough moments and it could be argued that Monday night’s loss was the toughest of the year blowing a 4-0 lead to the anemic Pirates and losing the game on an outfield gaffe but that is in the DNA of the 2012 Mets. They brush off tough losses and at the same time do not get too high after emotional wins. Their leader, David Wright, personifies that concept as his consistent 2012 season has been electrifying and inspiring to his younger teammates who respect the fact that the Mets third basemen is doing all of this with a fractured finger.

I said last week this team reminds me of the 1997 Mets who were just starting to believe in themselves under a fiery Bobby Valentine. That team won 88 games just falling short in the wild card chase in a year where only ONE wild card team punched a ticket to the post-season. It is far too early in this season to use the “P” word but if this team continues working hard, bouncing back after tough losses, and getting great pitching from Santana and Dickey, that word might be entering into the minds of Mets fans. Who knows? Maybe it has already.

Are the Mets a legitimate contender to make the postseason? Leave a comment below.

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