Just last week the New York Mets went on a four game losing streak and lost their spot at the top of the National League East standings. Many Mets fans began to panic. It looked like the New York Mets were falling apart and that the 2009 season could be a bust. The optimist in me never believed the Mets were doing as bad as anybody said they were doing and I’ll tell you why.

Let’s start with the specific game that had New York Mets fans shaking their heads. Two Mondays ago the New York Mets lost in 11 innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Here are just a few of the things that took place.

* Ryan Church missed third base while running and cost the Mets what would have been the winning run.

* The New York Mets committed 5 errors in the game.

* The New York Mets lost

When you look at each of these facts it looks pretty bad for the New York Mets but let’s take a more optimistic look at this game. Let’s make some changes and some additions.

* Ryan Church missed third base while running and cost the Mets what would have been the winning run BUT this was a complete fluke. How many times has this happened in Church’s career? Once? It’s not like Church or the rest of the Mets are going to start missing bases all season long.

* The New York Mets committed 5 errors in the game BUT two errors were by a shortstop that won’t normally be playing, one error was by Jeremy Reed attempting to play first base, one error was by a pitcher (Sean Green) that has been awful and I’d rather not see on the mound, and the fifth error was by Carlos Beltran who despite the error is one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball so I’m not worried about him.

* The New York Mets lost BUT it took the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team with the best record in baseball, 11 innings to beat a Mets team that played completely awful.

* Jose Reyes didn’t play.

* Carlos Delgado didn’t play.

* The Dodgers scored 2 runs in the first inning and 1 run in the 11th inning. In between those innings Tim Redding, Bobby Parnell, J. J. Putz, Sean Green, Pedro Feliciano and Brian Stokes basically combined for a complete 9 inning shutout against the first place team in baseball.

The point is that yes, the New York Mets were hideous but they still almost beat the first place team without Reyes and Delgado in the lineup. Yes the Mets lost four games in a row but they lost four games by a total of six runs. I think Mets fans should actually be encouraged.

How is a team so decimated with injuries and errors back in first place in the National League East? How is a team filling in spots in the lineup with a 40 year old Gary Sheffield and guys like Angel Pagan and Fernando Tatis just one game worse than the Red Sox and Yankees? How is a rotation filling in spots with Tim Redding and Livan Hernandez within 1.5 games in the standings of every team in baseball except the Dodgers?

If the New York Mets in this state can compete against the rest of baseball or even just their division, then what can they do at full strength? How good are the New York Mets when Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado are healthy? How good are the New York Mets if they come back AND Gary Sheffield is still playing like a every day player? How good are the Mets if Jon Niese and Fernando Martinez start to contribute? How good are the Mets if Oliver Perez can find his way? How good are the Mets if they can make a move at the trade deadline?

Right now the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies and even the Atlanta Braves are contending for the National League East crown. I’m not naive enough that I don’t think there are concerns.  All of those questions I just asked all included the word “if”.  Right now they are still if’s because the Mets do have injury and defense concerns.  As long as the Mets are playing the way they are it will continue to be a tough race but if you look at each team’s ceiling then I don’t think the division is even close.

There are plenty of ways the New York Mets can improve throughout the 2009 season. How can the Phillies improve? Cole Hamels could pitch better but other than that I don’t see much improvement in the Phillies team. Some say that Ryan Howard is struggling but he has 12 home runs and 34 RBI. His batting average is only .263 but that isn’t struggling, that’s how bad he normally hits. Last season when some people wanted Ryan Howard to be MVP he only batted .251 so how is he a MVP last season and struggling this season? Jimmy Rollins could certainly play better but after a mediocre 2008 I’m starting to think that Jimmy Rollins isn’t really the player he was in 2007. He’s very good, but not that good. Then there is Lidge. After last season some people might think Brad Lidge will turn it around but why should we believe that after his horrible seasons in Houston?

A lot of people have said the Mets need a leader. Carlos Delgado went down with an injury and the player everybody wants to be team captain, David Wright, hasn’t exactly taken a vocal leadership role. Maybe there aren’t players on the Mets that are very vocal and maybe they don’t have guys pumping their fists, other than K-Rod, but I don’t think this is the same team that lost the division the past two years.

I can’t give you exact dates off the top of my head but it seems like the New York Mets have come from behind in the 9th inning three or four times this season. The most recent example was Omir Santos hitting a two run home run against Jonathan Papelbon to beat the Red Sox and it doesn’t get much better than making Papelbon shut his big fat mouth.

Was the Mets team that lost the last two division titles a team that came from behind in 9th innings? Was the Mets team that collapsed two years ago a team that committed five errors, made a vital running mistake, started Tim Redding and still took the first place team in baseball to 11 innings? No, that team didn’t make comebacks. That team would have lost that Dodgers game by 10 runs. This year’s Mets team is a different than the team of the past two years and they aren’t even playing their best baseball yet.