For Terry Collins, there may have been about a four-hour window during the All-Star break when his mind was not partially occupied by thoughts of getting the Mets back in line to begin the second half.
It began as the National League All-Stars took their places on the foul line, with Collins at the front of the line as their manager, the first time in more than four decades in the game that he had earned such an honor. But it ended the moment the American League clinched a 4-2 victory Tuesday night in San Diego.
Before leaving the clubhouse that night, Collins checked in with Bartolo Colon, the 43-year-old All-Star who will start Friday night against the Phillies. Then Collins chatted briefly with closer Jeurys Familia, who did not appear in the game partly because of Collins’ own desire to manage his workload.
“It was a blast,” said Collins, whose own worries about his team led him to a strange happenstance.
Of all the teams in the NL, the Mets were the only one not represented in the All-Star Game itself. But that fact didn’t seem to linger with Collins, especially in light of the much bigger task that awaits.
On Friday night, with the Mets set to resume their season in Philadelphia, Collins returns to a few difficult realities. They include a pitching staff that could be on the brink of an upheaval and an injury-ravaged offense that has found little consistency from anyone not named Yoenis Cespedes.
Through it all, the Mets are 47-41, tied with the Marlins for second in the NL East and the second wild card. They begin the second half still within reach of making the playoffs.
“We’re where we want to be, with a good opportunity to make a push toward the end of the season,” Curtis Granderson said.
But that position also comes with a few disconcerting qualifiers. The Nationals lead the division by six games, and with the addition of Daniel Murphy’s bat and Dusty Baker’s steady hand, they’ve made it clear that a repeat of last year’s second-half fade appears unlikely.
Also, the Marlins stand right next to the Mets in the wild-card race. With their recent acquisition of reliever Fernando Rodney, the Marlins became even more formidable. Perennial playoff contenders St. Louis and Pittsburgh linger within 1 1⁄2 games in the wild-card standings, setting the stage for the Mets to find themselves in a mad scramble in the second half.
“We’re still in the race,” Collins said as he entered the break. “The state of the team is, we’re banged up. We’re taking the four days and hopefully recuperate.”
The biggest wild card for the Mets remains their starting pitching, particularly Noah Syndergaard (9-4, 2.56), the hard-throwing righty who has emerged as the ace. He faces a measure of uncertainty after a disconcerting drop in velocity in his last start.
“The Nationals got hot, so it’s hard to catch up with them right now,” Syndergaard said. “But last year we were in a tough situation and we’re a lot better now than we were last year. So I’m pretty confident we’re going to bounce back in the second half.”
Of course, bouncing back without Syndergaard could be impossible, especially if the rotation suffers any more hits. The Mets already are without Matt Harvey, whose brutal first half ended with pending surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. Steven Matz remains a start-by-start question mark with a large bone spur in his left elbow.
And there is Syndergaard, the latest reminder of the toll that the Mets still might be paying for the 2015 season, when their run to the World Series demanded more out of their collection of young arms.
“There’s been some residual effect on everybody,” pitching coach Dan Warthen said recently. “It’s not so much the innings but the length of time. An added month is a huge difference.”