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Questions linger, but Mets' bright spots stand out

Emergence of Harvey as true ace helps ease team's struggles in first half

NEW YORK -- It was a first half of wild juxtapositions for the Mets. There was Matt Harvey's blindingly brilliant run of success, culminating with his start in Tuesday's All-Star Game, along with Ike Davis' demotion to the Minors.

There was Bobby Parnell's emergence as a legitimate big league closer, but also Ruben Tejada's season-long struggles. There were positive gains from Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee, but injuries to Shaun Marcum and Jon Niese.

It is difficult to gauge the Mets' first half as a team, simply because they have morphed through so many forms over three-plus months. Early in April, they were unbeatable. By May, they could not win. Toward the end of June, they became successful again.

"We're disappointed," was manager Terry Collins' summation. "We're not happy with where we're sitting. We got off to such a good start. We've had ups and downs."

So rather than look at the Mets through the prism of the team as a whole, it is perhaps more apt to discuss them from individual standpoints.

Take Harvey, for example. No player in baseball made a more significant first-half splash than Harvey, who took three no-hitters into the seventh inning, made his first All-Star team and established himself as a legitimate ace. He has already become more than most scouts thought he could be, injecting the Mets with a new-found dose of optimism.

"I thought Matt would pitch good," Collins said. "I didn't know he would pitch this good."

The Mets are also pleased with the early work of Zack Wheeler, who encouraged them with a strong start just before the break.

Then there is Parnell, who assumed the closer's role despite widespread speculation that he wasn't cut out for ninth-inning work. All Parnell did was save 17 games in 20 chances, with two of the blown saves due more to defensive issues behind him than any fault of his own.

And how about Hefner and Gee, both of whom risked losing their rotation spots as recently as mid-June? Those two have responded with some of the best performances of their careers, proving they are worthy of rotation spots not just now, but for the future as well.

First-half awards
MVP: David Wright Shiny new contract, same old Wright -- as steady as they come.
Cy Young: Matt Harvey He has not only been the talk of New York, but the talk of all of baseball.
Rookie: Scott Rice The 31-year-old rookie has become an everyday option out of the bullpen.
Top reliever: Bobby Parnell The Mets appear to have found their closer of the future.

"I learned that … I needed to take advantage of opportunities when they come to me," Hefner said.

Like Gee, he has.

Of course, there's a reason the Mets entered the All-Star break with a losing record, nine games under .500. Davis endured a miserable first half, earning a demotion to the Minor Leagues that he managed to avoid last season. Though Davis recently returned with a revamped swing and improved confidence, it will take a massive second-half surge for him to approach last year's numbers.

"I feel like I got back to a place where I can start hitting consistently, versus in an inconsistent way," Davis said. "Over a long period of time, if I keep doing what I was working on, I'll have success."

The Mets were also counting on Tejada to improve in his second full season as Jose Reyes' replacement at shortstop. Instead, he suffered a significant quad injury for the second straight year, ultimately earning a demotion upon his return. It is unclear whether Tejada remains a significant part of the future plan in Flushing.

Injuries likewise robbed the team of Niese, Marcum, Tejada and Lucas Duda for significant portions of the first half. Former closer Frank Francisco still has not surfaced.

And that's part of the problem for the Mets: they entered the year with so many questions up and down the roster, and have answered precious few of them. The Mets still don't know if Duda can be a viable everyday outfielder, if Niese can consistently perform like the pitcher he was last year, which version of Davis is for real -- and so on.

Players to watch in second half
Zack Wheeler The talent is clearly there for Wheeler, who has been inconsistent so far as a big leaguer.
Ike Davis If Davis has another monster second half in him, he could reassert himself as a cog for the future.
Matt Harvey Keep an eye on his innings total as he ventures into uncharted territory.

To be sure, they were encouraged by Harvey's first half, by David Wright's consistent season, by Wheeler's potential, by Marlon Byrd's surprise contributions and Parnell's performance in the closer's role.

"I'm very proud of the way they played the last month," Collins said. "I had one of the guys that's not on our team tell me the other day, 'A lot of teams could have cashed it in in your situation, and your team hasn't.' That's a pat on the back to those guys in that clubhouse."

But the Mets still cannot respond to many of their most burning questions questions.

Lucky for them, 71 games remain to answer as many of them as possible.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
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