It's no surprise to Terry Collins that the Cardinals, through 20 games, again sport one of the better records in the National League.
As manager of the Mets, Collins has long admired the Cards from afar -- particularly the way they have developed their homegrown core of players, including Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig and a host of young pitchers.
Collins would prefer to view from a distance. Instead his team has another date on Tuesday with the Cardinals, who will send ace right-hander Adam Wainwright to the mound at Citi Field.
"They've done a great job," said Collins, whose Mets beat the Cards, 2-0, in Monday's series opener. "When you look at their club, obviously they've got some very, very good players that they signed and raised on their own. But they've gone out and done a nice job of adding some help. There's not one thing that really sticks out. They all are just good, solid players."
The Mets will counter with right-hander Dillon Gee, who rebounded from a tough start to the season to blank the D-backs over seven innings last week in Phoenix. Though Gee threw just 72 pitches in the game, Collins was unwilling to give him a chance to falter late, as had become Gee's habit earlier in the month.
Gee understood the decision, noting that he has to earn back his coaching staff's trust.
The upshot is that he should be plenty fresh when he takes the mound for Tuesday's game, perhaps giving him an advantage. But unlike Gee, Wainwright has been consistently sharp this season, pitching a shutout against the Nationals his last time out.
"Waino has been around for a long time," Molina said. "The other team has a pretty good idea what Waino brings to the table. That's what makes Waino good, because he can do different things in different at-bats. One at-bat, he can get you out with a curveball. The other at-bat, he can get you out with a cutter. He's hard to hit that way."
Mets: Tejada looking to get rolling
The Mets are slowly starting to see returns from Chris Young, Travis d'Arnaud and other hitters who'd either slumped or endured injuries early this season. But they have not enjoyed much production from shortstop Ruben Tejada, who finally broke through with a big game -- mostly on the defensive side -- on Monday.
Tejada's early struggles opened the door to criticism of the front office, considering that the Mets declined to upgrade the position through free agency -- Stephen Drew is still available -- or trade over the winter. But Collins believes his shortstop is on the cusp of returning to his 2011-12 form, which saw him hit .287 with a .345 on-base percentage.
Since that time, Tejada has hit just .201 with a .266 OBP in 73 games, missing significant time due to injuries and a Minor League demotion. But he did make two fine plays on Monday, finishing 1-for-3 with an intentional walk.
"I don't feel upset about sticking with Ruben," Collins said. "He's put some good at-bats together. ... Would you like it to be better? Well we'd like everybody to be better. But right now he's the guy, and we've got to continue to try to get him to improve."
Cardinals: Ellis over Wong, but not forever
The Cardinals played veteran Mark Ellis over Kolten Wong at second base for Monday's series opener against the Mets, though that arrangement is far from permanent. Manager Mike Matheny feels that Wong is on the verge of breaking out despite a rough start to the season, which includes his current 2-for-18 funk.
"I think he is doing a better job than what we were seeing in Spring Training of not feeling good but not wearing it on his sleeve," Matheny said on Monday. "He is making good strides toward getting it remedied. I talked to him at length today about some of the things he is looking to do, and he has a real good approach to how to fix it. I am anxious to get him back out there."
Wong, who is historically better against right-handed pitching, is a good bet to return to the lineup on Tuesday versus Gee.
• Forty-year-old Bobby Abreu joined the Mets on Monday, and he could start in the outfield at some point this week. Abreu, who was hitting .395 in a short spell with Triple-A Las Vegas, will serve mostly as a left-handed pinch-hitter.
• Mets third baseman David Wright extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a broken-bat RBI single in the third inning on Monday. It is the franchise-record 18th double-digit hitting streak of Wright's career.
• Cardinals pitchers struck out at least seven batters in a game for the 15th time Monday. That mark is second only to Washington (16) in the National League.
• Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy has owned Wainwright throughout his career, going 6-for-11 with two doubles, a triple and a walk. Outfielder Lucas Duda has also seen plenty of success against Wainwright, with a double, a homer and six RBIs in eight at-bats. As a roster, the Mets sport a lifetime .301 batting average and .845 OPS against the Cardinals ace.