By Rich Coutinho
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All winter I insisted that a healthy Johan Santana would redefine the Mets.

Well, I was right — and I was wrong.

Santana has been terrific this season, now with a 5-3  record to go with his 3.00 ERA. Quite frankly, I expected success from Johan when I left Port St. Lucie this spring. He was healthy and throwing all his pitches.

What I wasn’t counting on? That R.A. Dickey would be even better, and the two pitchers would formulate the most lethal starting duo in all of baseball.

The way these guys are pitching, Mets fans can start using the “P” word — playoffs — because this team is a bona fide contender. They sit three games behind the first-place Nationals in the NL East standings and are ahead of the Braves, Marlins and Phillies. Why? Because the Mets have a pair of aces in Santana and Dickey. They’ve covered up the team’s weaknesses: an inconsistent offense and a leaky bullpen, which could be patched by adding depth in the ‘pen either through an organizational call-up or a trade, coupled with the continued resurgent play of Ike Davis.

Don’t believe me? Well, I asked around the league, calling scouts and talking to opposing hitters like Chipper Jones, Carlos Beltran and Jimmy Rollins. All of the above concur that the experts underrated New York. They credited both Terry Collins and the two horses at the top of the rotation as the reason the Mets might just surprise some people.

“Johan Santana has been a great pitcher for us this year,” said Collins. “But he has also been an awesome leader inside this clubhouse, whether it be encouraging a young player or pulling him aside to tell him there is a right way to play the game.”

Can the work of Santana and Dickey translate to playoff baseball for the Mets? To paraphrase Johan, you’d better believe it.

“We believe in ourselves,” Santana said. “We also know there’s much work to do. R.A. is making history and I’m pitching pretty good but (Jon)  Niese and (Dillon) Gee have had very good games and Chris Young has been terrific. We all believe in each other and that’s what you love to see.”

Santana uses “Believe” frequently to describe both his journey and his expectations of his team. It has recently become a word popular among Mets fans as well.

It’s a word the Mets dust off and use every few years. Tug McGraw used it in 1973 with the rally cry “Ya Gotta Believe!” Gary Carter used it in 1986 when he got the Bill Buckner inning started. Bobby Valentine used it to get to the 2000 World Series. And now Santana has brought “Believe” back into the conversation again, appropriately enough on the 50th anniversary of the franchise.

“Believe” could help make 2012 a season to remember. In many ways, it already has.

But I have a sneaking suspicion the best is yet to come.

Mets fans, are you starting to believe in October baseball? Be heard in the comments below!