NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins predicted that he's going "to see a lot of similar faces" when he walks into the clubhouse Friday afternoon, and for the Mets, that's no longer such a concerning proposition. The team that routed the Phillies on Wednesday afternoon, 11-2, hardly resembled the one that scuffled for much of May and June. Even if the Mets do nothing before Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, they have proven their ability to be dangerous.
Mostly, the Mets have spent the past month watching several of Wednesday's key players improve significantly under their watch. From Zack Wheeler's quality start to Daniel Murphy's three-run homer to a five-run seventh-inning rally that put the game away at Citi Field, the Mets have managed to transform despite a static roster.
"I feel like we're a whole different team from the beginning of the season, honestly," Wheeler said.
If they want to take the next step toward legitimate contention, they'll need to continue down that path. Because help does not appear to be coming on the trade market.
Right now, at least, the Mets don't seem to need it. Wheeler continued his rapid ascent to stardom against the Phillies, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings for his sixth consecutive quality start. The only damage against him came on Ryan Howard's RBI double in the fifth inning and Jimmy Rollins' pinch-hit homer leading off the seventh.
The Mets held a secure lead by that point thanks to Murphy's three-run shot in the fifth off Kyle Kendrick, who gave up one other run in six innings. But they did not put things away until the seventh, when Lucas Duda, Travis d'Arnaud, Chris Young, Ruben Tejada and relief pitcher Jeurys Familia each rapped out RBIs in a six-batter span. d'Arnaud doubled and Young reached on an error.
In many ways, the rally demonstrated the extent to which the Mets have improved. Duda's hit not only came off a lefty, signifying growth -- "he's become one of the more dangerous hitters in the National League," third baseman David Wright said -- but also resulted in his career-high sixth straight game with an RBI. Offense from d'Arnaud and Tejada, nonexistent earlier this year, has since poured forth on a regular basis.
By the time Familia came through with -- rather incredibly -- his second hit of the season, the Mets were well on their way to another series win. When Duda tacked on a two-run homer, his 19th of the season, the game descended into a rout.
"I've been impressed, mostly, with just the consistency with which this team has played the last month or three weeks or however long it's been," Wright said. "It seems like we're consistently going out there winning series against some quality teams. Hopefully that continues, because that's what it takes. You can't just get hot for a couple weeks and try to ride that. You've got to consistently get better as a team and we're doing that."
"We're a good team right now, I feel," Wheeler said. "We're just a couple of swings or outs away from turning the corner."
A couple of trades could also put the Mets over the top, improving the roster more rapidly than any internal development could. But that is unlikely to happen; general manager Sandy Alderson has preached prudence since the day he arrived here three and a half years ago, reiterating that stance earlier this week. While a blockbuster deal for, say, Troy Tulowitzki might dramatically change the state of things in Flushing, the fact that the Mets have improved so fully without making such a move gives them reason to stay the course.
Postseason play may still be unrealistic for a club sitting four games under .500 at the dawn of August, but the prospect of relevant games down the stretch is not as outlandish as it once seemed. So even if the Mets indeed do nothing prior to Thursday's Deadline, they are clearly a much-improved bunch.
The result is that once-expendable veterans Murphy and Bartolo Colon are now far more likely to stick around. When asked about his Trade Deadline agenda, Murphy said he plans to spend the day with his wife and child, well beyond the reach of the nearest Twitter feed. He's not worried. Colon is not worried.
"Guys understand the Deadline, and you just go about your business," Wright said. "There's no talk of it. There's no real thought of it."
For once, the Mets know they're in promising shape regardless.