Collins continues to push right buttons

ATLANTA -- The New York Mets had not occupied any position higher than fourth place in the National League East standings since the season's opening homestand, when the Colorado Rockies began a four-game sweep at Citi Field and the Mets were early in a seven-game losing streak.

That changed Tuesday night, when the Mets leapfrogged the Florida Marlins in the standings and moved into third place.

And while a 4-3 win against the Atlanta Braves, coupled with Florida's fourth straight loss, was not exactly a cause for uncorking champagne bottles, it was a major accomplishment for manager Terry Collins and crew.

The depleted squad -- minus David Wright and Ike Davis, and without any notable contribution from Jason Bay this season -- somehow has ridden Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and several unheralded players to a 28-21 record since bottoming out at eight games under .500 on April 20.

Now, with rookie Dillon Gee attempting to improve to 8-0 in a matchup against Tim Hudson on Wednesday, the Mets will try for the third time on this road trip to reach .500. If they do so, it will mark the first time they've reached that plateau since beating the Yankees in the Subway Series opener to improve to 22-22 on May 20.

"As I've said before, they're aware who's not here," Collins said. "So they're also very aware when they're going to get their chance, they've got to play well. And when they do, we beat good teams."

Collins' decision to start Willie Harris over Bay in left field against Braves ace Jair Jurrjens, the majors' ERA leader, paid dividends -- even if it gave the manager another delicate situation to navigate with a high-profile player. Harris went 1-for-2 with two walks against Jurrjens, while playing roles in first- and third-inning scoring.

One scout assigned to the Mets said Collins may deserve the NL Manager of the Year award for keeping the Mets afloat given the injuries and overall talent level relative to the rest of the division.

Can Collins put the Mets in position to make a run with the current pieces, especially with the upcoming stretch primarily being spent on the road? Including five straight series against American League teams looming, versus the Angels, Athletics, Rangers, Tigers and Yankees?

"That's what we got," Collins said about the pieces in the clubhouse. "And we're going to do the best we can each and every day to make sure we put guys in positions where they're going to be successful. Because that, ultimately, is what the manager does. When you've got all the pieces here, it's easy to do. When you don't, you've got to have a lot of input from a lot of people, including those guys that dress out there [the players]. They've got to tell you how they're feeling, get ready to play and execute."

As for tough choices, such as sitting Bay, Collins said: "They don't have to be happy with what they do, but they have to accept their roles. Therefore, part of that is just getting Willie Harris a game. At the same time, you take out one of your players who's probably not that happy about it, but understands because he's a pro. And that's what it's going to take. It takes that makeup and that attitude to have some success."

Said Harris: "I think he's done an excellent job of giving us a chance to succeed. His job is not easy, either."