Mets no longer can pretend they're contenders

The Mets' David Wright looks at his bat The Mets' David Wright looks at his bat between swings against the Washington Nationals in the sixth inning at Nationals Park on Aug. 6, 2014 in Washington. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Patrick Smith

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City

WASHINGTON - The Mets can stop the pretending now.

Obviously, with seven weeks left, they still have to say all the right things. It's not as if we can just fast-forward to Sept. 28. But we already know the ending. We've seen this movie before.

And David Wright has lived it. So when the Mets finally succumbed Thursday, losing to the Nationals, 5-3, on Bryce Harper's walk-off homer in the 13th inning, he didn't even bother with the usual spin. Not after the Mets dropped nine games behind the NL East-leading Nationals and 7 in the wild-card race, behind six other teams.

Wright also didn't have the energy after baking in the sun for 4 hours. The optimism was mostly drained out of him.

"We're fighting like heck to try to get back to .500,'' Wright said, "and we come in here and win the first game. You're feeling pretty good about yourself. Then you drop the next two. That's not how we played it in our minds for sure.''

The dream died during this series at Nationals Park. Any momentum generated by Zack Wheeler's gut check on Tuesday night, when he impressed the Mets with his self-correcting effort, had vanished by the time the players packed up for Philadelphia.

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Sure they were tired. But the Mets have to be discouraged, too. It's no fun when you're constantly reminded that you're not good enough. And despite how close Thursday's game was, with the Mets rallying from down 3-0, the result is all that matters. They got their shot at the first-place Nationals and were knocked out instead.

As great a find as Jacob deGrom has been, he had one of his rougher outings, which for him is a quality start: three earned runs in six innings. That shouldn't be a death sentence, but deGrom can't do it alone (he even chipped in with a single).

Offensive futility is hardly new for the Mets. The more troubling aspect of this loss, however, is the little things, which repeatedly sink them.

With Adam LaRoche on second base in the fourth, Ian Desmond lined a single to left that appeared shallow enough to keep LaRoche at third. But Eric Young Jr. swooped in front of the charging Juan Lagares, and when Young took his time returning the ball to the infield, LaRoche was waved home. He suddenly sped up and scored without a throw to the plate.

While EYJ switched into autopilot, LaRoche evidently kept playing baseball, and it cost the Mets a critical run in a game that went 13 innings.

On the decision front, Terry Collins made a head-scratcher when he double-switched Lagares out -- for Chris Young -- in the eighth. A day earlier, Collins raved about Lagares' defensive ability, comparing him to seven-time Gold Glove winner Devon White. And here he was pulling him, with the score tied at 3, to go with Young instead.

The move wasn't quite as bad as it originally looked. Kirk Nieuwenhuis moved from leftfield to center, and Collins ultimately didn't get burned. Nieuwenhuis bailed out his manager with a pair of diving catches.

Maybe Lagares makes them look a little easier, but Nieuwenhuis still got the job done, a point that Collins made sure to emphasize when asked about that particular double switch.

"I thought the guy that went in did pretty good,'' Collins said. "Before Juan Lagares popped up on the scene, Kirk Nieuwenhuis was the go-to guy in centerfield.''

Chris Young also had a chance to make Collins look smart -- or lucky -- with his one at-bat in the 10th, but he flied out harmlessly.

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Young's opportunities are dwindling, and it's not crazy to think that might be the last time he is seen in a Mets uniform. With a series starting Friday night in Philly, Sandy Alderson finally could be ready to make that move. And really, what's the use of waiting any longer?

Giving $7.5 million to Young was a mistake. Nothing can be done to change that. Fortunately for the Mets, the deal was for only one year, and it's not a contract that will hinder them in 2015, which is what we're all thinking about now.

Sure, there still are 47 games left in this season. But this week only confirmed our suspicions and killed the suspense.

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