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Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As much as New York Mets fans like to complain about Jerry Manuel, there might not be a manager in the National League doing a better job than the Amazins skipper.
Before you call me crazy, just think about it for a second. With a disabled list that currently hosts Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, John Maine and Oliver Perez (two of the team's top five starters heading into the season), as well as J.J. Putz (the team's main setup guy), Manuel has the Mets just 2 1/2 games back of the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East.
Now, I am not sure if that is a credit to the Mets or a knock towards the Phillies, whose poor play at home (13-22) has allowed New York to at least tread water while waiting for their injured stars to return.
How they are doing it I have no idea. In the last few games against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets put a lineup on the field that, as a whole, did not have as many home runs as Albert Pujols.
The Mets have managed just 44 home runs this season - one better than the league-low in that category. You can blame Citi Field, where home runs are down, as well as the one constant in the order, third baseman David Wright, who has left the new park just three times but is hitting a NL-best .346 with four home runs.
As good as Johan Santana has been, you can make the case that Livan Hernandez has been even more important. You knew what you were going to get from Johan, who apart from a recent rough patch has been nothing short of spectacular, but Hernandez was a true wild card heading into the season.
Hernandez has been incredible for the Mets exactly when they needed him the most. Since the start of May, Hernandez has gone 4-1, while surrendering three runs or less in eight of his 10 outings.
Throw in a decent outing from Mike Pelfrey or Tim Redding, not to mention a contribution here and there from Fernando Nieve, and you have yourselves the makings of a true patchwork staff.
No matter how it has been put together, though, it seems to be working.
General manager Omar Minaya went into last offseason with the sole purpose of upgrading the bullpen and it has paid off, as closer Francisco Rodriguez has been worth every penny of the $37 million they are paying him, saving 19 games so far, while blowing just two, one of which was the Luis Castillo drop-game against the Yankees a few weeks back.
Speaking of the Castillo drop, how many bad losses like that have the Mets endured? Remember Ryan Church missing third base with what would have been the go-ahead run in Los Angeles? What about Daniel Murphy's drops in the outfield?
The Mets' mistakes have been countless, yet they are somehow still in it. You can chalk their contender status up to the fact that Phillies have not taken advantage if you wish, but the standings say the Mets are 2 1/2 back in the wild card regardless.
Minaya has already said he is not going to mortgage the future to make a move for this season, not that there is a need to. As we close in on the trade deadline, which is now just five weeks away, show me the club who is going to add a Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, John Maine and Oliver Perez for a late-season push.
Teams will be lucky to get one of those types of players, let alone all five, without giving up anything.
Now the Mets probably need another starter, and they will get one. It won't be the Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt-type, probably someone more in the vein of Bronson Arroyo or Jason Marquis.
I do know this. The Phillies are going to get better at home at some point. They will not be a .371 home team all year. Then again, they probably won't be a .727 road team all year either.
So, barring some catastrophic event (although I can't see a situation worse than the one they are in right now), the Mets should still be within striking distance when some of their stars return.
The biggest obstacle the Mets may have to overcome will be shedding that "choker" label that has haunted them the past few years.
STAT OF THE CENTURY
This little diddy unearthed from benmaller.com: Phillies starter Jamie Moyer improved his career record to 106-0 (8 no-decisions) on Tuesday when given a lead of five or more runs.
As I was marveling at the stat, one co-worker joked that Moyer's whole career is based on run support, but whatever. 106-0 is 106-0, and that is pretty impressive.
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