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Mets ponder direction upon return home

Mets return home, ponder direction

NEW YORK -- The silly and supposedly impersonal personal attacks of Brian Bruney are over, as is the most challenging week of baseball to date in the Mets' season. And what now? A respite of sorts, perhaps, in Baltimore, followed by more formidable challenges from the American League East when the Mets return to Citi Field on Friday.

The coordinates of this team are readily available -- four games from first place and two games from third in the National League East with 101 games remaining. Coordinates are one thing; the course is something else. The limping Mets are in a predicament similar to one that once confronted Stymie and his famous derby and prompted him to say to the other members of Our Gang: "Don't know where we're going, but we're on our way."

Precisely. The Mets appear to have no particular place to go, but they're making good time. Uncertainty is at every turn. Questions involving the return of Jose Reyes are mixed with the unknown elements involving John Maine, Oliver Perez, J.J. Putz and Carlos Delgado. And to those circumstances, add this: Jerry Manuel said on Sunday he could no make decision regarding Gary Sheffield until the condition of Sheffield's right knee was determined via MRI on Monday. But Sheffield said Sunday he knew nothing of the examination. And the club announced Monday no MRI had been scheduled.

Then again, lines of communication sometimes become strained, just like hamstrings.

Where the organization goes at this point also is unclear. The Trade Deadline is 45 days away, and by then, the club ought to know significantly more about all its injured soldiers except Putz and Delgado. Moreover, it will have a view of the team through 103 games and know more about Ryan Church and Tim Redding; the readiness of Daniel Murphy, Fernando Martinez, Bobby Parnell and Sean Green; and David Wright's home-run swing.

At this point and probably until after the All-Star break on July 13-15, the Mets will be disinclined to trade for help. Their sense of the market now is that some eventual sellers will seek more in return now than they will when they are closer to the Trade Deadline. So the Mets will wait and talk and wait. Come later July, they will talk and wait and talk, so long as they believe their own team still has a chance to play into mid-October.

Manuel has said the objective between now and the All-Star break -- or until the return of Reyes -- is to keep the winning percentage above .500. The team's current 32-29 record yields a .525 percentage. Once the Mets return from Baltimore, they play three games against the Rays, four against the Cardinals and three against the Yankees, all at Citi Field, before a three-game series in Milwaukee, a makeup game in Pittsburgh and four games in Philadelphia.

The Mets' emotional tempo for that set of 18 games may not match what existed in these past six games against the Phillies and the Yankees. But 18 games will demand more consistent performance than the most recent six from a team that regularly lacks consistency over nine innings.

Even if the Mets can maintain a percentage higher than .500 until the All-Star break, chances are playing close to .500 for the next month won't be enough to maintain a deficit of three, four or five games in the standings. With Brad Lidge disabled and not performing well when he's active, the Phillies are not the power they were last season -- not yet anyway. But with their offense in their ballpark, they can treat opponents as the Yankees treated the Mets on Sunday and thereby separate themselves from the rest of the division.

Some thought exists within the Mets' hierarchy that the team is better off not fixating on the Phillies -- that it can aim lower, at the Wild Card berth, and be less anxious about the remainder of the season. The safety net approach has been discussed. But even the less demanding role of Wild Card aspirant requires winning with some regularity.

The schedule doesn't get easier because attaining the objective requires less. And in one week, the Mets have gone from leading the Wild Card chase by a game to a third-place standing, 1 1/2 games behind the Giants and one game behind the Cardinals.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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