ATLANTA -- Over the course of the last three months, the Mets have revealed every flaw, every wart, every blemish. They fail to hit in the clutch. They falter in close games. They find ways to lose.
Through it all, they have benefited from a mediocre division, never playing poorly enough to become a blip in the rearview mirror. Until now, they had kept themselves within arm's reach of first place. Not anymore.
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The Mets plunged to new depths in Tuesday night's 5-4 loss to the Braves, which dropped them to a season-worst 10 games below the .500 mark and nine games behind in the NL East. They must win Wednesday night's series finale to avoid a three-game sweep and sidestep the prospect of a 1-6 road trip.
"We've just got to hang in there," manager Terry Collins said, insisting that the Mets (37-47) can still apply the paddles to their season. "We can't tuck our heads between our legs and feel bad for ourselves."
In many ways, the loss encapsulated a season's worth of failures. The Braves scored all five of their runs with two outs, consistently delivering the big hit. By contrast, even as the Mets managed two-run homers by Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy, they lamented their missed chances to do more.
The most glaring example came in the fifth, following Murphy's two-run shot that put the Mets back in the game. Trailing 5-4, they had runners on the corners with just one out, only to strand both.
The Braves won their 17th one-run game of the season. The Mets dropped their 20th.
Murphy was asked what the Mets could do to win close games. "Play better," he said. "It's one of those questions where if there was a magic formula to it, we would be doing it, I promise."
Of course, things aren't quite that easy for the Mets, who have dropped three straight and six of their last seven.
For the second straight start, Mets righty Daisuke Matsuzaka was roughed up, allowing five runs and seven hits in just five innings. He struck out five and walked three. Over his last two outings, Matsuzaka (3-3) has been tagged for 10 runs, making him vulnerable to be bumped from the rotation when Dillon Gee comes off the disabled list.
Gee could be back just before the All-Star break, leaving Matsuzaka on the outside looking in.
"I'll think about that when it happens," Matsuzaka said through a translator.
Granderson's 12th homer of the season gave the Mets a 2-1 lead in the third, though Matsuzaka promptly gave it right back. Freddie Freeman doubled off the fence in left-center to score Andrelton Simmons to even the score at 2.
The biggest damage against Matsuzaka came in the fourth, when he issued a leadoff walk to Chris Johnson.
With two outs, Braves pitcher Mike Minor helped his own cause with an RBI single. B.J. Upton followed with a hit before stealing second base.
Simmons delivered the knockout blow, a two-run single that pushed the Braves' lead to 5-2.
"They do have a knack for it," Collins said. "Those are the kind of players they've got over there."