Middle of the road: Mets first half report

The Mets will start the second half of the season on Thursday with a 44-44 record, eight games back of the division-leading Washington Nationals.

Situated exactly at .500 appears to be a perfect setting for a club that can play very well at times, but struggles mightily at others – in short, an average club that is powered by stars but flawed nonetheless.

The Mets may have the guns to make a run for postseason play, but so far, spring training predictions pegging the club at 85 to 88 victories don't appear to be far off.

That will be a difficult proposition, especially given the fact that behind the Nationals, all three of the Mets' NL East companions lie ahead in the Wild Card race, with Atlanta (50-39) – who come into Shea Stadium for a four-game series that begins Thursday – leading the charge after the break.

Three up: The Mets' undisputed first-half MVP would have to be Cliff Floyd, who fell short of heading to Detroit for the All-Star Game – in fact, way short. Floyd was 13th among National League outfielders in the balloting, and deserved far better than that.

Playing in 80 of the Mets' first 88 games, Floyd not only managed to stay on the field, he was extremely productive when he was there, hitting .287 with 22 home runs and 55 RBI.

It's hard to believe that the Mets actually entertained thoughts of dealing Floyd this past winter to the Cubs for Sammy Sosa; harder still to fathom that the reason for trading Floyd was his outspoken nature and candor with the media. Floyd is still making noise in the clubhouse, just with his bat, and is a team leader.

The safe choice to name three productive first-half Mets is actually to go left to right in the outfield.

Despite being slowed for six weeks with a quad injury and having a subpar first half, Carlos Beltran (.266, 10 HR, 44 RBI) had fluids drained in early July and feels like a new man, stealing bases at every opportunity and basically playing like the aggressive star the Mets knew they were shelling out major dollars to acquire. After hitting .198 in June, Beltran is hitting .317 with a home run and six RBI this month – the homer coming, as nine of his 10 have, in a Pedro Martinez start.

We'd be remiss without calling upon Martinez, who really set the tone for the season's first half and has been above and beyond what anyone could have expected. Martinez exercised his right to stay home from the All-Star Game, which is fine, but he certainly earned the right to go, going 10-3 with a 2.72 ERA and a National League-leading 138 strikeouts (only the Twins' Johan Santana had more, with 143).

In right field, Mike Cameron has been a little bit quieter since his scorching-hot May, but was playing well enough on both sides of the ball to draw intrigue from the Yankees before the club finally decided to call up Melky Cabrera (another one of Gary Sheffield's tantrums might have had something to do with that).

Regardless, Cameron has battled a few lingering injuries to have a productive season to this point (.276, 9 homers, 26 RBI, 20 doubles, 7 steals) and make his mark on the Mets' outfield. Victor Diaz has been sent back to Triple-A Norfolk and is now working out at first base, leaving no question who the Mets' right fielder is for the 2005 season.

Honorable mentions go to David Wright (.281, 11 HR, 44 RBI), displaying a professional attitude and showing no signs – at least offensively (Wright, who has 11 errors, admits he has a ways to go) – of a sophomore slump, and Chris Woodward (.309, 2 HR, 13 RBI), a Willie Randolph favorite who has been helpful at every position the Mets have asked him to play, including 11 games in the outfield, where he'd never played since Little League.

Three down: Considering he leads the club in at-bats, perhaps it's not fair to lump Jose Reyes in this category because his health means great things for the organization.

Regardless, Reyes has been a little bit frustrating for Randolph this season, only because of his boundless energy. His .284 on-base percentage is unacceptable for a leadoff hitter, and though Reyes appears to be taking more and more pitches, it's still not all clicking yet.

He's only 22 and "a young colt," as Randolph is fond of saying, and it's fun to watch him run (26 steals in 34 attempts). If he can only figure out a way to walk more, the Mets will be in fine shape.

The Mets don't appear to be overly concerned with when Kaz Matsui (.234, 3 HR, 21 RBI) returns from Port St. Lucie or the disabled list, the clearest sign yet that the only thing keeping Matsui a Met is his three-year contract.

Remember when the Mets had that press conference in midtown Manhattan, lauding the signing of "Little Matsui" and outbidding several other clubs – including the Yankees, who were interested – in the process? It was only two winters ago, but it seems like so much longer.

Carlos Delgado still gets boos at Shea Stadium, so we guess Doug Mientkiewicz hasn't done anything to change the Mets' original offseason plan – sign Pedro Martinez (check), Beltran (check) and Delgado (oops).

Mientkiewicz's steady glovework was beautiful to watch, but he's been sidelined since June 26 and nearly forgotten. A second-half run isn't out of the question – Mientkiewicz is a professional hitter who hit .300 as recently as 2003 – but even he is baffled what's going on offensively.

On the way in: The Norfolk-to-New York shuttle is just about exhausted for the moment, as proven by the fact that Jose Offerman and Gerald Williams are on the major league roster. Who's next, Benito Santiago? (Don't say that too loud – it might happen.)

28-year-old reliever Juan Padilla is probably the next Tide to help the Mets in some capacity. The righthander went 3-2 with a 1.44 ERA and 11 saves through 36 appearances (two starts) for Norfolk. We'd also like to see Anderson Hernandez, a switch-hitting infielder who is hitting .368 through 17 games at Norfolk after a promotion from Double-A, get a call.

On the way out: It's no secret the Mets would trade Matsui if only they could find someone to take him, and therein lies the problem. Tom Glavine (6-7, 4.94 ERA) would be a logical choice for a deal to a contender if the Mets stumble into the July 31 deadline, especially with Steve Trachsel on the mend and slated for a August 1 return. It's hard to expect Dae-Sung Koo (0-0, 4.50 ERA) to finish the season with the Mets, especially with Royce Ring gaining points in Randolph's eyes as a lefty reliever.

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