Mets in need of offensive fireworks as their season hits a crossroads

Lucas Duda, Eric Campbell, Eric Young, Jr., and Lucas Duda, Eric Campbell, Eric Young, Jr., and Jon Niese of the Mets watch play during the top of the 9th inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 2, 2014 in Atlanta. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Scott Cunningham

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Perhaps things would be different for the Mets had they simply performed in the clutch.

Maybe the conversation would be less about their woeful record in close games and more about making a run in the National League East.

A few more big hits might have made talk about run differentials a moot point.

"We're getting beat,'' manager Terry Collins said. "But we're in games.''

Of course, that hasn't been enough to spare the Mets from entering their final homestand of the first half with their season at a crossroads. They have lost seven of their last eight games and have fallen 11 games under .500.

Even though general manager Sandy Alderson thinks the Mets are better than their 37-48 record, they maintain just a 0.8 chance of making the playoffs, according to the playoff odds tracker at Baseball Prospectus.

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Much of the difference lies with the Mets' maddening inability to pull out close games. Of their 85 games this season, 61 have been decided by three or fewer runs, tied for the second-highest total in baseball. Their winning percentage in those games is .377 (23-38) -- the lowest mark in the game.

No other team is close to that number of losses in games decided by three or fewer runs.

"If we're looking up and we're getting beat by four and five runs every night, I'd probably have something different to say,'' said Collins, who also believes that the Mets have been better than their record. "Win or lose, we're in the ballpark. We just can't finish it off.''

Their struggles in close games have mirrored their overall issues. In games decided by three or fewer runs, the Mets have been outscored by only 25 runs, meaning that they should expect a winning percentage of .448 in those games. Simply playing to that level would translate into a four-game improvement.

But even though they often wind up going against the Mets, those close decisions have been enough to relieve Collins of the immediate threat of a dismissal. According to multiple team sources, the status quo remains, and Collins still is in no imminent danger of being fired. Nor are there any roster shakeups in the immediate future, including any trades.

The Mets already have gone through one shakeup with the firing of hitting coach Dave Hudgens. Under Hudgens, the Mets hit .237 and averaged 3.9 runs per game. Under his replacement, Lamar Johnson, they are hitting .241 and averaging 3.8 runs per game.

The change has been negligible, and the Mets don't seem inclined to go through another shakeup. But that could change quickly, especially if they stagger into the All-Star break in two weeks. "We want to win baseball games,'' Daniel Murphy said. "It's no fun losing. I don't like doing this. But we've got a day off. We'll get rested, we'll come out and we've got Texas coming in.''

Alderson has indicated that a trade of lefty Jonathon Niese is unlikely. And although rival executives believe Murphy could draw plenty of interest in the market, the second baseman might stay put as well. But the days to come could change the Mets' thinking.

"We've got to go play,'' Collins said. "Don't worry about where we are when the All-Star break hits. We've got to go start Friday night and start winning baseball games. Because the only thing that's going to matter is where you are in September, not on July 10th.''

Notes & quotes: First-base coach Tom Goodwin is expected to rejoin the team Friday. He had been gone since June 24 while tending to a family matter.

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