David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PHILADELPHIA - If the Mets eventually clinch the National League East, and there's no compelling reason to think they won't, Terry Collins should be named manager of the year.
Whether Collins still holds the job title in Flushing beyond this season, however, remains very much up in the air.
Back in spring training, it was agreed that any discussion about Collins' future would be put on hold until the season was over. And given his lame-duck status, there was a decent chance Collins would be done before the Mets were.
But here we are in late August, and Collins has the Mets in first place -- with a big assist from Sandy Alderson, whose deadline moves vastly improved a once-flawed roster.
Still, Collins' situation hasn't changed, and there doesn't seem to be a clear path toward a guaranteed return for him.
Does securing the Mets' first playoff berth since 2006 lock up a contract extension for Collins? Do they have to win a series? It's a great question, and one that nobody within the Mets' organization will entertain at the moment.
Not with 36 games remaining on the schedule. And not for a franchise that remembers losing a seven-game division lead with 17 games left in 2007. But the NL East title is getting closer by the day, and Collins -- who finished second in five straight seasons (1994-98) with the Astros and Angels -- is six weeks away from getting a team to the playoffs for the first time.
"I think of all the times I've managed," Collins said, "this is the one I want the most."
But not for the reasons you might think. Collins isn't sweating the contract. He has too much on his plate right now. And he's having too much fun to worry about his future. In his four previous seasons, Collins never got past 79 wins. This year, after Wednesday night's 9-4 victory over the Phillies, the Mets are on pace for exactly 90. The last time the Mets reached that plateau was 2006, when they won 96. And we all know what happened that October.
But that was a whole different cast. Willie Randolph finished second to Joe Girardi -- who won 78 games with the Marlins -- in the manager of the year voting. This season, it's Collins who has that underdog feel. And what other manager has weathered a storm like Collins has?
Mike Matheny is the pilot of the Cardinals' relentless machine, Clint Hurdle -- the '13 manager of the year -- again has a deeply talented Pirates' team and Joe Maddon, a two-time award winner with the Rays, is doing what everyone figured he'd do with the Cubs. The Giants' Bruce Bochy, however, is making a serious push.
As for Don Mattingly, he's always a sentimental choice, with his long history of near-misses in the postseason. But the Dodgers are a $300-million juggernaut.
Although it takes a great deal of diplomacy and finesse to steer a ship that size, Mattingly isn't exactly doing more with less out in L.A., which helps explain why Joe Torre -- despite his four World Series rings -- only won manager of the year twice with Yankees, and split the award with the Rangers' Johnny Oates in 1996.
Collins may face some anti-New York bias in the BBWAA voting (sort of an urban myth really). But when told Wednesday that he would be a favorite for manager of the year, if the Mets keep this up, Collins stayed on point.
"That does nothing for me," Collins said. "Don't get me wrong. It's a very nice compliment. But it's about the guys playing. We know that. Let's not kid ourselves."
Since we're speaking frankly here, we were skeptical Collins would make it this far. And there were a handful of times this season he seemed to be approaching the brink. But like his team, the 66-year-old Collins always rallied, and that type of character should be rewarded.
"We've put ourselves in a great spot right now," Collins said. "We've got a good team. These guys feel it. So yeah, we want to win it bad. I know I'm getting near the end of my career. And to be able to be in the postseason, and have a chance to play on the greatest stage there is, that means a lot."