WASHINGTON — For a while, the Mets gave off the illusion that maybe all was not lost. By beating up on the dregs of the National League, they had at least opened the possibility of regaining a grip on their lost season.
This was a mirage.
Though hot streaks come, the Mets have made it clear that their many flaws won’t be going away any time soon. The Nationals drove home this point Tuesday, stomping the Mets, 11-4, by exposing all the ills that have torpedoed a season of promise.
The Mets don’t pitch well, they don’t catch the ball, and they don’t stay healthy. The consequences have been reflected in the standings, where the Mets (38-45) have fallen 9 1⁄2 games back of a wild-card spot. The Mets find themselves in the same hole that they faced before winning seven of nine games in a stretch against the also-ran Giants, Marlins and Phillies.
“When you know you’re climbing an uphill battle and these guys are on top, you want to be able to make up as much ground as you can,” Mets rightfielder Jay Bruce said. “We haven’t been able to do that.”
The Mets are 3-9 in the season series against the NL East-leading Nationals and they have been outscored 81-44. The Mets have dropped three straight and need a victory Wednesday to avoid a sweep against the Nationals, who began the series with three wins in their previous eight games.
As the trade deadline approaches, it has become clear that the Mets will indeed be sellers.
Daniel Murphy resumed tormenting his former team, going 4-for-5 and equaling a career-high five RBIs. Some of that damage came against Mets righthander Seth Lugo, who allowed six runs and 10 hits in five innings.
Murphy has reached base in all 30 starts he’s made against the team that let him walk as a free agent following the 2015 season. Against the Mets, the All-Star Murphy is hitting .405 with 34 RBIs. “The guy’s good, that’s all you can say,” Lugo said. “You’ve just got to make better pitches to him.”
Not that Lugo was alone to blame. Porous defense has plagued the Mets all season. He was simply the latest to pay the price.
“Sometimes, they find holes,” Lugo said, speaking generally about the 10 hits he surrendered. “Hopefully, they find people more than holes. But that wasn’t the case today.”
Indeed, it hasn’t been the case all season. The Mets have converted into outs just 68.5 percent of balls in play, the second-lowest number in all of baseball.
With the score tied at 2 Tuesday, the Nats seized command with four runs in the fifth inning, which they began with four straight hits. The uprising was hastened by poor defense.
Bruce whiffed on picking up Bryce Harper’s single to right. The error allowed Wilmer Difo to score from first.
Third baseman Wilmer Flores followed up by breaking the wrong way on Murphy’s grounder to third. With no time to recover, the ball hit Flores’ glove and trickled away. The infield hit allowed Harper to score. Two batters later, Ryan Raburn drilled a two-run double that split the gap in right-center.
“If you’re going to pitch, you’ve got to catch it,” Terry Collins said. “Some of the best pitching in baseball has some of the best defense in baseball.”
The Mets’ depleted starting lineup couldn’t break through against Nationals righty Joe Ross, who allowed just two runs in seven innings. Jose Reyes and Rene Rivera hit solo shots, the only production against Ross for a starting lineup that was missing Curtis Granderson (sore hip) and Yoenis Cespedes (right hamstring cramp).
The Mets stranded nine runners, which didn’t help on a day in which shoddy defense once again took a toll on pitching.
“It seems like we’re 6 to 10 inches away from being in the right place,” said Collins, though the Mets made that difference seem much larger.