CINCINNATI - Terry Collins' lone experience in the postseason came in 1992 with the Pirates, a club that saved its best baseball for the end of the regular season.

Collins, the bullpen coach at the time, watched the Pirates close out the year with a 22-10 mark. But it did them little good against the Braves, who won Game 7 of the NLCS on Sid Bream's iconic mad dash to home plate.

"I have not been in the postseason so I don't know what the effect [is] of how the team is playing at the end of the year," Collins said Thursday as he discussed the Mets' backslide toward October. "The only time I've been involved is when I was coaching in Pittsburgh. We were playing great at the end of the year and got beat."

Collins' experience only reinforces baseball's counterintuitive reality: Little proof exists that sailing through the stretch run translates into postseason success, with study after study showing no such link.

Not that such a fact provides any solace for Collins and the Mets, who entered last night's series opener against the Reds coming off a 3-6 homestand.

"I know in the past you look at the teams that have been the hottest going into the playoffs, they're the ones that went the farthest," Collins said. "Right now we need to focus on playing better."

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Of course, plenty of evidence exists the other way.

The 2000 Yankees dropped 15 of 18 to end the season before racing to another World Series championship. And just last season, the Royals leaked oil down the stretch and were forced to survive a wild-card game against the A's before hoisting the American League pennant.

The Mets' last playoff team in 2006 lagged during the season's final month, going 15-15 in the last 30 games. They were outscored by 16 runs in that span. Yet the Mets roared to life in October, sweeping the Dodgers in the NLDS before falling painfully short in the NLCS against the Cardinals.

Yes, the same Cardinals who went 12-17 to close out the season -- on the way to winning the World Series.