Young players fuel Mets' optimism for second half

Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia reacts after Miami Marlins' Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia reacts after Miami Marlins' Donovan Solano grounds out to end the game at Citi Field on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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David Wright remembers being on the other end of the spectrum, a fresh face surrounded by a sea of veterans. Back then, even though the Mets had all the experience they could want, they still found themselves in dogfights with upstarts such as the Marlins.

"They had a bunch of younger players with this certain swagger to them," said Wright, who hopes that the Mets can display some of that confidence.

A decade after breaking into the big leagues, Wright, 31, finds himself at the center of a young team that has started to show signs of fulfilling its promise.

The Mets begin the second half of the season tomorrow at 45-50, in third place in the NL East, seven games behind the first-place Nationals and Braves. They closed the first half with an 8-2 homestand that they hope to use as a springboard.

From Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia in the bullpen, to Travis d'Arnaud and Ruben Tejada in the starting lineup and Zack Wheeler and rookie Jacob deGrom in the starting rotation, the Mets' recent resurgence has been led by a group of emerging 20-somethings.

Lucas Duda has seized the opportunity to thrive at first base, helping to jump-start an offense that often has been stagnant. And thanks to deGrom, the pitching staff has endured an extended absence by Dillon Gee.

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"When you have a room full of younger guys, sometimes they can get a little cocky in a good way, where they feel like they can't lose or they can't get out or the opposing team can't hit them," Wright said. "And that can be dangerous."

In some ways, the Mets find themselves caught in the middle as they decide whether to approach the July 31 trade deadline as buyers or sellers. According to sources, the team has yet to engage in trade talks, even though pitcher Bartolo Colon and second baseman Daniel Murphy are expected to generate interest.

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Mets have only a 3.5-percent chance of making the playoffs. But the Mets have reason to believe they can finish with a .500 record for the first time since 2008, and with a few breaks, perhaps play meaningful baseball during the homestretch.

Curtis Granderson noted they have 35 remaining games against NL East opponents. "We basically have the ability to kind of control where we end up," said Granderson, who has moved past the horrendous start to his tenure as a Met.

As much as the Mets can take from their surge to finish the first half, expecting .800 baseball is unrealistic. But Terry Collins believes maintaining a consistent approach is a reachable goal.

"What we've got to do is go out and play like we did this homestand," Collins said. "You're not going to do it every night, I understand that. But for the most part, play consistent, play smart, play fundamental baseball and we'll get back in the hunt."

Not since 2008 (38-29) have the Mets posted a winning record after the All-Star break. It is also the last time they finished a season with more victories than defeats. To finish at .500, they must go 36-31 (.537).

That record would nearly match their expected winning percentage in the first half, when the Mets had a plus-19 run differential, which is generally an accurate gauge of how a team will perform.

In the first half, the Mets finished five games under their expected winning percentage based on run differential, the largest gap in the major leagues. They also lost a league-high 20 one-run games, another reason for the disparity.

Both hint at some bad luck that could turn as the season unfolds.

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Said Wright: "There's no question that we can be a different second-half team."

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