Summer makeover has 1st-place Mets primed for playoff run

NEW YORK (AP) David Wright can hardly contain his excitement.

Thanks to a dramatic summer makeover, the New York Mets are pushing hard toward their first playoff appearance in nine years - with their captain aboard for the ride.

''Every game is a big game from here on out,'' Wright said. ''This is what it's all about. This is what I've missed for the last few years, is playing in these types of games and these types of situations. So I'm pumped.''

Following a string of injuries and losing seasons, the 32-year-old Wright returned in late August after more than four months on the disabled list due to a strained hamstring and spinal stenosis. In full uniform, he greeted teammates with a batch of cookies when they arrived at their Philadelphia hotel following a long flight from Colorado.

The next night, he homered on his first swing in the majors since mid-April.

For a Mets squad that's been on a sweet roll the past five weeks, it only seemed fitting. After completely transforming a moribund lineup into a dangerous one in a matter of days, New York (74-59) has won 22 of 31 to open a 6 1/2-game lead in the NL East over Washington with 29 to play.

Along the way, Wilmer Flores, Yoenis Cespedes and a cast of young arms have revitalized the fan base.

''This is what I've kind of been thinking about since `06, `07, is getting back to this point where the stadium's full, it's rocking on a nightly basis and bringing the energy,'' said Wright, the longest-tenured active big leaguer to play all his games with one team.

''You can just tell the enthusiasm's rubbing off on the players.''

Of course, there's much more work to do. And that's a history lesson not lost on Wright.

Back in 2006, the Mets fell just short of the World Series with a Game 7 loss to St. Louis. They thought they had a championship contender for years to come, but Wright and his teammates squandered a seven-game division lead with 17 remaining and missed the `07 playoffs.

The next year, they collapsed down the stretch again.

Those are bitter memories frustrated Mets fans have been waiting to erase. The club has endured six consecutive losing seasons since moving from Shea Stadium to Citi Field in 2009.

Wright is getting his chance now, too.

''There's still a long time to go. I know as well as anybody that nothing is safe. Until it happens, anything can happen,'' Wright said Wednesday night. ''I mean, you probably ask the majority of guys in here, they probably have no idea about that. So I don't think about it. I've learned from it, but I don't think about it. I've learned some valuable lessons from those years.''

What are they?

''Don't look ahead. Just try to win series. You can't focus too much on the big picture,'' he said. ''Being in a pennant chase in New York, it's unlike any other place. The excitement's at a different level, the energy's at a different level, and it should be fun.''

Here are some things to know about the new-look Mets and their postseason prospects:

TURNING POINT: Led by Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and closer Jeurys Familia, the pitching staff has been one of baseball's best all season. But the Mets were a one-dimensional team until general manager Sandy Alderson overhauled an inept offense just before the trade deadline. The additions of Cespedes, rookie Michael Conforto and veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson - plus the healthy returns of Travis d'Arnaud, Michael Cuddyer and Wright - have helped the Mets become the top-scoring team in the majors since July 25. After mustering only 3.4 runs per game before that date, they've averaged 6.1 since even though slugger Lucas Duda has been on the DL since Aug. 22. ''Night and day,'' Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. ''They've just got a lot of firepower now.''

TRADE CHIPS: Using young assets stockpiled as the Mets were rebuilding, Alderson has also acquired relievers Tyler Clippard, Eric O'Flaherty and Addison Reed since July 27. New York traded eight minor league pitchers (all right-handers) to get six new big league players, increasing payroll by more than $9 million. Reed is the only one the club controls beyond this season.

THINKING AHEAD: Even as they attempt to put away a scuffling Nationals team that was heavily favored before the season, the Mets are keeping an eye on the future and trying to protect their prized pitchers. DeGrom starts Friday night at Miami, but young Noah Syndergaard will be skipped this weekend when fellow rookie Steven Matz returns from injury. Harvey likely will be passed over once more in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. It's part of the organization's plan to limit innings for Harvey and Syndergaard in the hope of preventing arm trouble and keeping them fresh for October.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS: September also offers an unexpected chance at redemption for 66-year-old Terry Collins, the oldest manager in the majors. He's never reached the postseason as a big league skipper, blowing several late leads and finishing in second place five times with the Astros and Angels during the 1990s.

INSIDE THE SCHEDULE: New York is 24-2 against the three last-place teams in the National League and 50-57 vs. everyone else. But that bodes well down the stretch as the Mets play 20 of their final 29 games against clubs currently at least 22 games under .500. They face Washington six times, with one series in each city.

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