CLEVELAND: When the season began, everyone’s preseason favorite to win the NL East and even NL were the Philadelphia Phillies. Some people also picked the Cardinals to win the Central and Rockies to win the West.

Right now, on June 16, the Mets have a better record than all three of those teams, and are one-half game out of first place. The Mets also are only one-and-a-half behind the Padres for the NL’s best record.

This surge to nearly the top of the NL has been powered by a 16-5 run since May 22, and just a winning brand of baseball, something the Mets hadn’t had since 2008.

Well, coincidentally, the Mets are eight games above .500 (36-28) for the first time since the final day in 2008. Isn’t it funny how that works?

With all that being said, the Mets must continue their scorching-hot run tonight with Ohio native Jon Niese on the mound.

The Mets showed grit and toughness in last night’s thrilling comeback victory; now they have to parlay it into a series win against a decent Indians pitcher, Mitch Talbot.

Niese though, has been terrific since his return from the disabled list. In his last start, which started the Mets’ five-game winning streak, he came within a Chris Denorfia double of a perfect game.

Not that you expect him to throw a one-hit shutout every time out there, but at least Niese is becoming another Mets reliable starting pitcher.

And if his stuff is working, man is he tough to hit. Niese came up with a propensity of throwing a lot of curveballs, in fact, that was his main “out” pitch. Now, he’s widened his array of pitches, adding to his nasty hook, a cutter in on right-handers, and a changeup to keep hitters honest. It’s a repertoire that can absolutely dominate hitters, thus he almost no-hit the Padres last Thursday night.

For the Indians, they’ll be sending Talbot to the hill. For the most part, in his first full season in the big leagues at age 26, Talbot has been effective.

He threw a complete game against the White Sox on April 16, allowing two runs on six hits.

Talbot was drafted in 2002 by the Houston Astros, and made his Major League debut in 2008, where that season he appeared in three games (one start) for the Tampa Bay Rays.

How the Mets are playing now though, may be good enough to beat anyone. Their confidence level is at a season high, and they are just playing all-out baseball. On every ground ball, they hustle, thus beating out seven infield hits in last night’s win.

The leader in the hustle department has probably been Jason Bay. For all of his offensive struggles, Bay has shown that he runs every ball out, and makes every play in left field.

His hustle actually won the Mets last night’s game, as he beat a play out in the seventh inning, extending the Mets’ lead to 7-4.

If it wasn’t for that extra run, Shelley Duncan’s ninth inning home run off of Francisco Rodriguez would have tied the game at 6-6.

With the way both Jose Reyes and David Wright are performing at the same time, with Wright now leading the NL in RBI with 50, and with Jose Reyes wreaking havoc on the basepaths, scoring from second on an infield hit last night, the Mets offense is clicking, even with some guys struggling.

The Mets are pitching, as their starters are now 15-3 over their last 18 decisions, and they’re playing outstanding defense, having turned 11 double plays in their last six games, all leading to this Amazin’ Mets run, 10-2 in the month on June.

Maybe the Mets will have to win every close game with some drama with Francisco Rodriguez’s act, but they’re still getting wins and making hay in the standings, which is what it’s all about.

The Mets will go for their sixth straight win, and a chance to go for a 6-0 road trip tonight.

Jon Niese this season (10 starts)
3-2, 3.61 ERA, 57.1 IP, 63 hits, 19 BB, 45 SO

Mitch Talbot this season (12 starts)
7-4, 3.59 ERA, 77.2 IP, 74 hits, 31 BB, 34 SO

2010 season series (New York vs. Cleveland)

June 15: New York 7, Cleveland 6

Mets lead series 1-0

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