Congratulations to the NL East champion New York Mets

By Chris Ruddick
MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As I sit here on Friday, June 16, I am going to go out on a limb and proclaim the New York Mets the 2006 National League East champions.

After watching them dismantle their only real divisional competition this past week in the Philadelphia Phillies, I don't really think I am going out on much of a limb, though.

The Amazins' were simply spectacular this past week in the City of Brotherly Love, as they jumped out to an early lead in each contest and outscored the Fightins' 23-14, including an incredible 7-1 margin in the first inning.

New York, which just set a team record with eight straight wins on a road trip, set a major league mark by winning eight consecutive games on the road when scoring in the first inning. The 1939 Yankees did it seven consecutive games. The Mets' streak of eight straight games scoring in the first is also a team record.

However, I am not sure if the Mets are just that good or if Philadelphia is really just that bad. Either way, it does not really matter because Atlanta's 11-year stranglehold on the division is about to end.

I stated in a column three weeks into the season that the Mets had the best lineup in the league. I said that almost tounge-in-cheek to rile up some Mets fans I know, but the fact is they DO have the best lineup in the game right now.

No team in the league possesses the combination of speed and power like the Mets do. They can beat you with small ball, they can beat you with the long ball, and surprisingly they can beat you with pitching, too.

If there was one weakness on the Mets coming into the season it was the depth of their starting pitching. So far, so good though, as Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine have been sensational. Steve Trachsel has been so-so, but Omar Minaya made a great move a couple of weeks ago to shore up the staff with the acquisition of Orlando Hernandez.

Hernandez, who was acquired from Arizona for troubled reliever Jorge Julio, has pitched well in three of his four starts for the Mets. And as everyone who follows baseball knows, the time of the year that El Duque starts to turn it up is right around the corner.

Sure the Mets have their fair share of high-priced free agents and trade acquisitions, but it has been a pair of homegrown talents that have put the team from Flushing among baseball's elite.

David Wright has become a bona fide MVP candidate in just his second season, while Jose Reyes is becoming one of the most exciting players in baseball.

Just ask the Phillies how good these two are. In the three game set at Citizens Bank Park, Reyes reached base in 12 of his 17 plate appearances and is hitting .349 with three homers, eight RBI and 11 runs scored against the Phils this season. Wright hit three homers and knocked in six runs in the series this past week and saved the game on Tuesday by starting an unbelievable 5-4-3 double play in the ninth inning.

Another reason for the Mets' success has been the resurgence of Carlos Beltran, who was booed on Opening Day and had to be coaxed into coming out the dugout for a curtain call after a home run in early April. Those catcalls seem like a century ago, as he has become the player the Mets thought he was when they signed him to that monster seven-year, $119 million deal prior to the 2005 campaign.

Beltran, one of the few true five-tool players in the game, is hitting .300 with 18 homers, 53 RBI, 49 runs scored and 12 stolen bases.

Wright, though, has become the toast of the town in New York, similar to the way Derek Jeter captivated the city in 1996. In fact, Wright has been so good -- especially in the clutch -- that people are actually calling him the best third baseman in the Big Apple, instead of the two-time league MVP across town who has developed an incredible knack for disappointing in big spots.

While I don't think Wright is at that level of Alex Rodriguez just yet, I have to admit that the gap is getting smaller. While A-Rod plays a Gold Glove- caliber third base, Wright is still a hack in the field, despite his game- saving play earlier in the week in Philly.

As for the Phillies, I have no idea what is wrong with them. You look at that lineup and they should be winning. They are just way too inconsistent, though. Pat Gillick should be on the phone trying to do anything to shake that team up. Any move, though, may be and probably is too late.

Phillies fans shouldn't worry, though. They can still get a Bobby Abreu beach towel this weekend if they attend Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. A nice consolation prize to a division title, don't you think?

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Chris Ruddick
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