How has Terry Collins gotten the post-Reyes Mets to play like contenders?

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Terry Collins and Jose Reyes. (New York Mets)
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If the National League Manager of the Year voting were held right now, Terry Collins of the New York Mets would win fairly easily.

The Mets find themselves just a half-game out of first place, trailing the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals, both of whom were expected to be contenders. Their payrolls are roughly equivalent to New York's, with the Nationals at $88.4 million, the Mets at $91.2 million and the Marlins at $99.7 million.

But unlike the Mets, the Marlins and Nationals didn't have roughly 45 percent of that payroll tied up in a pair of players, Johan Santana and Jason Bay, whose ability to contribute meaningfully was in serious doubt entering the season.

Santana has certainly answered those questions with his performance so far, while it appears Jason Bay will return Tuesday night and attempt to do the same thing. But the Mets simply wouldn't be where they are on the strength of Santana's revival alone.

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Under Collins, it is impossible to identify a single player, outside of Ike Davis, who is underperforming.  He has Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda at new regular positions; he's managed to keep them producing offensively even as they learn the ins and outs at second base and right field.

Collins has also managed to push the right buttons when he's needed to call on his thin reserves. He's received game-winning hits from Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin, go-ahead hits from Justin Turner and Mike Nickeas, game-sealing home runs from Ronny Cedeno and Scott Hairston. He got a 1-2-3 inning out of the bullpen from his third-string catcher, Rob Johnson.

These aren't household names and, in most cases, they never will be.

At a certain point, that is as much about having your players ready to contribute as it is knowing your personnel, especially when injuries mean the personnel keeps changing.

One thing Collins hasn't done is coax a strong performance out of his bullpen yet, though it is hard to get blood from a stone. Still, he's taken a roster with plenty of gaps and coaxed two months of playoff-worthy performance out of it. Ultimately, the best a manager can do is to get his team playing hard and put them in a position to succeed. Collins has done that as well as any manager in recent Mets history.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

YANKEES

New York opens a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night.  Andy Pettitte will be on the mound, and New York is just 1.5 games out of first place. With the underachieving Boston Red Sox also taking on the Baltimore Orioles, some clarity will come to the American League East hierarchy this week. No one can really create space, though. Only three games separate the four teams.

METS

They drafted shortstop Gavin Cecchini with the 12th overall pick in the M.L.B. amateur draft, and took catcher Kevin Plawecki 35th. They won't help as quickly as Chris Young, who returns from rehabilitating his shoulder to start Tuesday night in Washington. And Jonathon Niese, lifted early for a suspected irregular heartbeat Sunday night, told reporters that he'll be having an outpatient procedure to fix the problem during the All-Star break, but shouldn't miss a start.

KNICKS

Mike Woodson declared that Jeremy Lin is his starting point guard.

RED BULLS

New York travels to Harrisburg for a U.S. Open Cup match Tuesday against the City Islanders, who knocked off New England last week, and knocked out the Red Bulls back in 2010.