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MLB Team Report - New York Mets - INSIDE PITCH

NEW YORK -- For a team that was about to complete its sixth straight losing season, the New York Mets felt pretty good about themselves as they prepared to scatter to their winter homes on Sept. 28.

But there was also an understanding that there cannot be a seventh straight losing season -- and that there cannot be a seventh straight September in which the Mets are playing out the string.

In fact, as he sat behind the podium for his final pre-game press conference of the season, manager Terry Collins didn't even wait for a questioner to finish framing a question about the increased expectations that will await the 2015 Mets.

"Should be," Collins said.

General manager Sandy Alderson agreed with Collins following a season-ending 8-3 win over the Houston Astros.

"I'm very pleased with what we were able to accomplish this year," Alderson said after the Mets finished 79-83 and tied for second in the NL East. It was the Mets' best record since 2010 and highest finish since 2008.

"I like what we have going forward. But at the same time, we need to get 10 or 12 games better."

But how the Mets go about doing that -- while not appreciably raising a payroll that sunk this season into the $85 million range -- is the big question.

The Mets will almost certainly have a stout rotation next season headed up by a trio of right-handers -- Matt Harvey, who is returning from Tommy John surgery, emerging No. 2 Zack Wheeler and likely National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. The bullpen, long a sore spot, is finally a strength thanks to back-end right-handers Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia, who will be joined in 2015 by right-handed former closer Bobby Parnell, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April.

That leaves the usual issue for the Mets -- the offense. And finding offense on a budget is tougher than ever in a game now dominated by pitching. But Collins said he hoped a return to health and to All-Star form for third baseman David Wright -- who hit .269 with eight homers in 134 games while being hampered most of the season by a left shoulder injury -- would provide an ample internal upgrade.

"We've got to get our star back," Collins said. "He played this whole year basically banged up. He's a whole difference in our lineup when he's playing like he can. There's been a lot of conversation: 'We've got to go get somebody.' You know what, when we get a healthy David Wright, that's a pretty big piece to go get."

Collins also expressed hope that right fielder Curtis Granderson, who hit just .227 with 20 homers in his first season with the Mets, would have a better second year now that he's adjusted to Citi Field, which will likely have a shorter right-field porch for Granderson to take aim at come next April.

Alderson said the Mets, who ranked eighth in the National League with 629 runs scored and ninth in on-base percentage at .308, need to become a top-five offense in order to emerge as a legitimate playoff contender. He tempered expectations that those upgrades would come from outside the organization by lauding the improvement this season of first baseman Lucas Duda, catcher Travis d'Arnaud and center fielder Juan Lagares.

Duda took over at first base following Ike Davis' trade in April and ended up hitting 30 homers. D'Arnaud was demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas in June but hit well upon his return and finished the season with 13 homers, tops among NL rookies. Lagares began to augment his Gold Glove-caliber defense with top-of-the-order skills. He hit .317 with a .364 on-base percentage and seven stolen bases in his final 15 games.

"I think if you look at the pieces we have currently, I don't know (that) other than Lucas, who had a terrific year -- I'm not sure anybody had a career year," Alderson said. "I think we have a lot of potential for growth within the group of players that we currently have."

That potential needs to continue translating into on-field production -- especially for the sake of Collins, who continually talked up the Mets' place in the wild-card race this September and is entering the final guaranteed year of his deal in 2015.

"Even though we were fighting basically for a wild-card spot, we were playing for something," Collins said. "The energy level kept up."