Little more than two weeks have passed since Terry Collins spoke to his team about finishing the season strong. He could see the storm clouds gathering.
At the time, the Mets had just lost Matt Harvey to an elbow injury that might require surgery that would sideline him until 2015. They also had just traded John Buck and Marlon Byrd to the Pirates, losing a pair of veterans who had gone a long way toward steadying an otherwise inexperienced clubhouse.
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Since then, Collins has reinforced the message, speaking with his team a few days ago after seeing more troublesome signs. Nevertheless, the Mets continued their limp through a sorry September on Thursday, absorbing a 7-2 loss that allowed the Nationals to sweep the four-game series.
"We've just got to start getting some hits,'' said Collins, who acknowledged his depleted roster, which has been missing David Wright (hamstring) for more than a month. "I don't care what the names are on the back.''
Perhaps most disturbing to Collins is that even though the Mets have gone into audition mode -- stocking the clubhouse with players who hope to earn consideration for next season -- he has not seen many results.
"You think some of these guys would grab the opportunity that's in front of them because of the injury issues on our club, to say here's my chance to show them I'm a major-league player,'' Collins said. "And we're not seeing that right now.''
Consider the team's last 10 games. Josh Satin is hitting .194. Andrew Brown, whom the Mets targeted specifically for an extended look, is hitting .056. Catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud is hitting .100. Rookie Wilmer Flores, battling issues in both ankles, is hitless in eight at-bats during that period.
"In this league, guys are going to make pitches,'' Satin said. "But when they don't -- they're going to miss -- we've got to hit them. We're not hitting them. I'm not hitting them.''
It's part of the reason that the Mets have soured so quickly since Harvey's injury and the trade of Byrd, the team's cleanup hitter.
In his Mets debut, 35-year-old righthander Aaron Harang struck out 10 but allowed three runs in six innings on solo homers by Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Wilson Ramos. The Nats later piled on, tagging the bullpen for four runs.
The Mets have lost nine of their last 11 games and six of their last seven, and their ugliest baseball in months might have come in the four games against the Nationals. The Mets were outscored 25-5 and outhomered 13-0 by the Nationals, who have won six straight to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
"When they get you down, they want to beat you up,'' Collins said. "And the guys in the room, because a lot of them are young, they better learn that lesson real fast.''
Notes & quotes: Frank Francisco insisted that he did not plunk Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth on purpose during the seventh inning. Werth jawed at Francisco and the Nationals wondered whether the reliever had intent. "He can say whatever he wants,'' Francisco said. "I was trying to locate my pitches and obviously I was all over the place.'' Werth declined to comment. Nationals manager Davey Johnson called Francisco "a little goofy. He was looking over at our bench and chatting at our bench. It's a good thing we don't see them again.'' . . . Johnson, 70, who led the Mets to the 1986 world championship, managed his final game in Flushing. He is stepping aside at season's end.