Manuel emphasizes playing good baseball
Mets are well aware of importance of NL East road trip
ATLANTA -- Sitting one game over .500 but only 6 1/2 games out of first place, the Mets know they've been lucky. And they know, if they don't start winning soon, their luck may run out.
"We're very fortunate to be in the spot that we're in, because we haven't played good baseball," manager Jerry Manuel said. "We haven't played good baseball, and we're still in this thing. If we could, boom, run off 30 or 40 games of good baseball, we've got a good shot. We've got a real good shot."
But if they drop series this week to the Braves and Phillies -- both of whom sit above the Mets in the standings -- they know their season may come to an abrupt end.
Simply put, the next six games will be easily their most critical to date. And the Mets, who have had only one winning road trip all season, are well aware of that.
"We played good baseball for a long period of time, but we haven't played good baseball recently," Manuel said. "That's what we've got to get back to doing. We have to get back to playing good baseball. That will give us the confidence to be able to come in and feel like we can win series and win games."
Mets shuffle rotation to skip Takahashi
ATLANTA -- No more compromises, no more second chances. It may be early August, but the Mets have already descended into the most critical stretch of their season.
Knowing that a poor week in Atlanta and Philadelphia could effectively destroy his team's chance at making the playoffs, Mets manager Jerry Manuel juggled his rotation this week, skipping Hisanori Takahashi so that Jon Niese can start Friday's series opener against the Phillies. Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey will then come back on regular rest to pitch the final two games of that series.
"We're at the point now, with 50-something games left, as a staff, we've got to try to figure out ... what's best for us to win those games," Manuel said. "We're looking at, 'Hey, what do we think is our best chance to win?'"
After a meeting with Niese and pitching coach Dan Warthen on Monday morning, Manuel concluded that Niese will give the Mets a better chance than Takahashi. Although the rookie allowed a career-high seven runs in 4 1/3 innings Sunday, Warthen managed to convince Manuel that Niese's struggles were due not to fatigue, but lack of focus.
Pitching Niese also allows the Mets to use Takahashi out of the bullpen beginning Wednesday, which could prove significant with primary lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano struggling of late.
"That kind of went into the thought process as well," Manuel said.
Beltran, Wright switch spots in lineup
ATLANTA -- Since his return from the disabled list, Carlos Beltran has served as David Wright's shadow, always batting directly behind the third baseman in the lineup. Manager Jerry Manuel's reasoning was that Beltran -- even at something less than full strength -- could provide the best protection for Wright.
But Monday, their roles were reversed. Due in large part to Beltran's career .371 average against Braves starter Tim Hudson, Manuel considered his center fielder the most critical piece in Monday's lineup.
"I need protection for what I think is the best hitter tonight in this matchup," Manuel said some three hours before Monday's game. "And the best hitter tonight in this matchup is Carlos."
Certainly, Wright has been swinging better than Beltran overall, batting .471 with two homers, a double and eight RBIs over his last four games. But Wright is just a .217 career hitter against Hudson.
The Mets will host their annual summer blood drive from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Wednesday at Citi Field. All donors will receive a pair of tickets to a 2010 Mets home game. ... Josh Thole has thrown out four of the six runners attempting to steal against him this season, most recently gunning down Arizona's Rusty Ryal on Sunday. As a unit, Mets catchers have thrown out 18 of 54 would-be basestealers ... Ike Davis, who ranks second among Major League rookies with 15 home runs, has not gone more than two straight games without a hit since his promotion to the big leagues on April 19.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.