Let's put one thing to rest right out out of the gate. No matter how many times you might read headlines to the effect, the second half of this season is not going to tell us whether or not the Mets are "for real."
You don't get to the All-Star break eight games over .500 and within shouting, if not spitting, distance of the division lead unless your team has certain charms prized in the world of baseball.
The Mets certainly have those, which makes questions about their authenticity fallacious on their face. What is actually in doubt is whether they have enough of those charms to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2006. The gut feeling is that they don't have enough right now but that can change in the two weeks before the trade deadline. Three players will help shape the way the Mets approach that day.
Mike Pelfrey - After beating the Orioles on June 13th, Pelfrey was 9-1 with a 2.39 ERA. In his five starts since that date, he is 1-3 with an 8.87 ERA and hasn't gotten out of the fifth inning in any of his last three starts. Every pitcher will go through rough patches from time to time so we shouldn't just assume that Pelfrey has forgotten how to pitch in the last month. A tired arm, good advance scouting and a million other things could be going on but it sure would be nice if Pelfrey and the Mets could figure it out.
Believe it or not, there's actually a silver lining to Pelfrey's struggles. If he had cruised through June and July at the same robust clip, it would have been much easier for the Mets to assume that everything was fine and dandy with their starting rotation. R.A. Dickey has been an unexpected joy and Jon Niese is showing more and more layers to his game but the Mets need more if they are going to stay the course in the second half. Of course, the silver lining is part of the dark cloud. If Pelfrey can't get right, adding another pitcher isn't going to be more than a cosmetic change.
Carlos Beltran - It's often a cliche when a team says that getting an injured player back is like making a big trade, but Beltran's return to the Mets rings truer than most of those instances. Even if he's 80 percent of his old self, it will jolt a decent offense into a very good one and make the Mets less reliant on their staff than they've been in the first half. Whether that's what he'll be is a mystery, however, and how long it will take him to get to full speed is equally unknown. It took Jose Reyes a month to get back to being Reyes. If Beltran is on a similar track, the Mets may need to look elsewhere for some offensive pop. That leads us to ...
Jason Bay - The big offseason acquisition has earned praise for his better than expected defense, his heady baserunning and the way he makes the clubhouse a better place to be. He earns that praise a lot because it seems like everyone wants to avoid the elephant in the room which is, of course, that he hasn't hit anywhere like the guy the Mets thought they were bringing in to bolster the lineup. His poor first half has only raised the expectations and pressure on Beltran's comeback as well as the need for Angel Pagan to continue to outperform expectations for the rest of the season. He doesn't need to put in MVP work but a modest uptick in the second half would make life easier for everyone and would eliminate the need for the Mets to look elsewhere for offensive assistance.