David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
We don't know how the Mets are going to pull out of this recent tailspin, a stretch where they have failed to score in 20 innings. But it's becoming clear what will happen if they don't.
Each of these stomach-turning nights pushes Terry Collins another step closer to the door, and Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Cubs -- in 11 innings -- was another little shove.
And truthfully, this is not Collins' fault.
The Mets have assembled an airtight rotation, the product of Omar Minaya's drafting ability and Sandy Alderson's five-year plan, but are woefully inept in too many other areas. Part of that is terrible luck. The injuries to David Wright, Travis d'Arnaud and now Michael Cuddyer are beyond anyone's control.
As for the rest of the roster, it's just good enough to fail. The current group can't hit with any consistency, and at key moments of the game, like Wednesday night, these players will bounce a throw or botch a squeeze attempt.
Not every time, but when it matters most.
No one should be fooled by the sweep of the Reds over the weekend, or the four-game winning streak that began when Jacob deGrom mastered the lowly Brewers before that at Miller Park. The Mets had dropped seven straight on that same road trip, and now they're in a two-game slide again. Already this crucial home series against the Cubs is lost, and with it the critical momentum the Mets (40-39) needed for the upcoming West Coast gauntlet against the Dodgers and Giants.
Panic City? Forget that. The Mets are in danger of sliding off the NL East map altogether, and once that happens, the front office usually serves up the manager to appease the howling fan base.
And that's the direction these Mets are headed right now. It's not too late. Collins can be saved, and he's trying to do it himself with some "outside the box" strategy -- such as Wednesday's squeeze bunt -- and the promise of a lineup shuffle for Thursday's series finale at Citi Field.
Collins said he spoke with his staff after Wednesday's loss to come up with some new ideas, and they'll be reflected in the card he posts Thursday morning.
"We've got to flip-flop some guys somehow," Collins said. "Shake it up a little bit."
But what options does Collins have? That was evident in the eighth inning, when he called for a squeeze for the first time all season with pinch hitter Darrell Ceciliani and it blew up in his face. Ceciliani didn't get the bunt down, Ruben Tejada got hung up and another scoring opportunity was flushed.
"We've got to do something outside the box," Collins said, "because we've been staying inside the box and it isn't working. We'll continue to press forward and try to come up with some answers."
No offense, Terry. But good luck finding them. There's only so many combinations that can be tried with this roster -- and they're probably going to all add up to the same thing. It's like a Rubik's Cube. As soon as Collins solves one spot -- say, Daniel Murphy at cleanup -- two others become jumbled.
Lucas Duda is killing the Mets from the No. 3 spot right now, but who can take his place? And if Collins wants to drop Curtis Granderson, then who hits leadoff? After seeing Michael Cuddyer limping around the clubhouse late Wednesday night, we doubt he can be much help Thursday.
Not that Cuddyer has been anyway. He's batting .125 (6-for-48) with 12 strikeouts and a .176 on-base percentage over the last 15 games. Overall, Cuddyer is hitting .197 (14-for-71) with runners in scoring position. Trying to improve on that with a slightly sprained knee only increases the level of difficulty.
"I think, whether it's misfortune or whatever, we're putting pressure on ourselves to get the job done," Cuddyer said. "I think that's the kind of rut that we're in right now."
And the Mets have to climb out of it -- quickly. For as long as Alderson waits to made a trade behind the scenes, Collins is the one left exposed, like a Whack-a-Mole waiting for the hammer. Either this group scrapes together a few runs -- something they have not shown the ability to do -- or Collins may not survive the All-Star break.
It's not fair, or right. But it's reality.