Mets have been simply Amazin' in April
ATLANTA -- If nothing else, the New York Mets keep scaring the tomahawks off the uniforms of the Atlanta Braves.
This is interesting, because both teams reside in the National League East, where the Philadelphia Phillies, Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals and the Braves were predicted to serve as Freddy Kruegers throughout the season for the Mets.
So far, "A Nightmare at Citi Field (or nearly any place else)" for the Mets hasn't happened. Instead, they've used their ability to torture the Braves in April to rank among the game's biggest surprises.
Did I say it's only April?
"Earlier in the year is deceptive," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who wants do something foreign to the Tabloid Nation around the shadow of the Statue of Liberty: Keep things in perspective.
There was Peter King, for instance, a U.S. Congressman for the district that includes Long Island saying Tuesday on MSNBC of the Mets, "They're on the move. Buy your World Series tickets now."
How about waiting until at least May?
Not only have Major League teams played less than a dozen games, they've basically just faced three or four teams.
The point is, well, let Collins tell you.
"All of sudden, when you start playing teams for a second time, that's when you really start to see where you stand," said Collins, sitting in the visiting manager's office at Turner Field, where his Mets conclude their three-game series with the Braves on Wednesday.
The Mets cruised to a 6-1 victory on Monday night, courtesy of another dominating performance from one of their starting pitchers. In that game, it was Dillon Gee, who joins a rotation featuring the likes of Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese, all flashing signs of finishing the season looking good or better than that.
Even though the Braves crushed Santana Tuesday night for four hits, six runs (four earned) in 1 1/3 innings along the way to a 9-3 victory, the Mets are 7-4. To hear the doomsayers tell it, the Mets weren't supposed to reach .500 even after starting the season 0-0.
"I never once thought that they'd be like a pushover or anything like that, and they haven't been," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla told reporters earlier in the week, while recalling, not only the Mets' blowout victory Monday night, but how Mets pitchers thoroughly dominated Braves hitters during a three-game series to begin the season in New York.
Afterward, the Mets dropped two of three to Washington at home, but then they took two of three against the Phillies on the road to regain their Braves-generated momentum heading to Atlanta.
These are the same Mets who entered the season without Jose Reyes, a perennial All-Star shortstop, leadoff hitter and sparkplug. He bolted over the winter as a free agent to the Marlins. The Mets also traded impressive slugger Carlos Beltran and super closer Francisco Rodriguez in the middle of last season.
Mets first baseman Ike Davis keeps shrugging, along with many of his teammates.
"It doesn't really matter what people think about us, because we're going to go out there and play our game, pitch well and play good defense and see what happens," said Davis, whose three-run homer was the only offense his team needed on Monday night. "We really haven't paid attention to people doubting us, because we don't doubt ourselves. It's early, but we've played decent so far. So, hopefully, we can win some more games."
The keys for the Mets doing such a thing?
Health, for one.
That mostly applies to David Wright and Santana, the Mets' biggest offensive and pitching weapons, respectively.
When Santana made his Opening Day start against the Braves, it was his first appearance in a game since September 2, 2010, when he damaged his left shoulder -- against the Braves, by the way. He began Tuesday night's game allowing opponents one run while striking out 13 and walking five in 10 innings over two starts.
Despite Tuesday night's implosion, Santana is healthy. And, except for a finger injury last week, so is Wright, along with his batting average.
Entering Tuesday night's action, Wright was hitting a Major League-best .542 (13 hits in 24 at bats, with two home runs), and his on-base percentage of .600 also led baseball.
Then, there are those other keys for the Mets this season, and none tops their need to catch and throw better. Only the Chicago Cubs committed more errors in the NL last season than the Mets.
"No question, we've got to play crisp baseball," said Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. "First and foremost, we've gotten off to this great start because of our pitching staff. They've just done an outstanding job, from the starters all the way down to the back end of the bullpen. But, for me, personally, I have to get a little better on defense and a little better offensively in situational hitting."
Will "a little better" overall keep the Mets vibrant in the NL East as the days evolve into weeks and months?
Given the long-run strengths of those other four NL East teams, the Mets need to get a lot better on a consistent basis.
"You look at Philadelphia. They may not get off to a great start, but what they do is they just wear you down every year, because they keep throwing that pitching at you. Same [with the Braves]," Collins said. "It tells you how tough this really is over 162 games. That's why you have to win now. These games count.
"You look up in May and all of a sudden [Ryan] Howard and [Chase] Utley are back [with the Phillies from injuries]. And you look up, and all of a sudden maybe [Stephen] Strasburg's shoulder gets tight [for the Nationals]. He has to sit or something else.
"The whole thing changes. That's why it's all about trying to make sure you focus on today."
As for today, the Mets are worthy of that World Series talk.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.