Mets still have work to do after another loss to Nationals

Mets' John Buck reacts after striking out during

Mets' John Buck reacts after striking out during the fifth inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. (July 27, 2013) (Credit: AP)

WASHINGTON -- The Mets have acknowledged their chances, however slim, of making a surprise spring toward the postseason.

For instance, they have yet to show interest in trading away Marlon Byrd and his team-leading 17 home runs. And they have switched to a six-man starting rotation, a move designed to help ease the innings limits on phenoms Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. After all, the Mets could use both down the stretch if they continue to close ground in the jumbled NL East.

"If we continue to play pretty good, you look up and you're five or six out, we'll have to determine what our next move is," manager Terry Collins said about how long the Mets will stick with the six-man rotation.

But if the Mets are to make things interesting down the stretch, they must learn to better exploit weaknesses. As they proved again Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the Nationals, there is work to be done on that front.

The Nationals have spent the season as baseball's great underachievers. Expected to contend for a world championship, they instead have languished as a sub-.500 outfit. They are a third-place team with first-place talent, statistically one of the worst offenses in baseball.

But against Mets righthander Dillon Gee, the Nationals summoned the firepower to give themselves a chance to win this four-game series.

Ian Desmond and Denard Span hit back-to-back homers in the first inning off Gee, who for the third time this season allowed three home runs in a game. It was Span's first home run since last season.

Gee gave up another homer in the second, this one a two-run shot by Bryce Harper. It came after Nationals pitcher Dan Haren doubled over the head of centerfielder Juan Lagares.

Said Collins: "All the balls, they were up, belt high and over the plate."

Gee settled in from there and lasted seven innings. But the Mets' offense stalled against Haren, who is beginning to turn around a horrendous season.

"The balls they hit out, they were mistakes," said Gee, who was pulled for a pinch hitter after only 80 pitches. "They weren't good pitches. They did a good job. To be able to get through seven innings, that was big. But the damage had been done. Just mistakes."

The Mets, who managed only four hits, scored in the sixth with the help of leadoff man Eric Young Jr., back in the starting lineup after missing Friday's doubleheader with knee soreness. Young legged out an infield single, stole second and scored on David Wright's single.

Perhaps it was some consolation for Wright, who earlier watched two potential solo homers sail foul.

The Mets must win Sunday to prevent a series loss before concluding their road trip with four games in Miami against the last-place Marlins. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Mets began the day with a 1.1 percent chance of making the playoffs. But those odds quickly will shrink if the team keeps missing opportunities.

The Mets pounded the reeling Nationals, 11-0, to open Friday's doubleheader but squandered a strong outing by Harvey to drop the nightcap, 2-1, on Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off homer.

Saturday, they lost to Haren, who had not won since beating the Tigers on May 9.

"You've just got to keep playing, bounce back," Collins said. "You know what, we've got a lot of road trip left."

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