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Mets head to All-Star break tied for last place

Bullpen collapses after strong start from Corey Oswalt in 6-1 loss.

Michael Conforto of the Mets slips and falls

Michael Conforto of the Mets slips and falls at third base trying to score a run during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on Sunday. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Sunday afternoon brought a sweet, temporary release to the Mets’ clubhouse. Their 6-1 loss to the Nationals sent the Mets into the All-Star break with a microcosm of their season: strong starting pitching, minimal hitting and bad bullpen work. There wasn’t as much lamenting as there was packing, with plans to follow through on and flights to make.

Parlaying underperformance with injuries, the Mets, who expected to contend, finished the first half in a virtual tie with the Marlins, who did not expect to contend, for last place in the NL East. The Mets are three percentage points behind Miami.

The Mets have not won a series in their past 16 tries, a stretch that will reach the two-month mark by the time they get back on the field Friday night against the Yankees.

At 39-55, the Mets have their most losses before the All-Star break since 1993 (60).

“It’s a far cry from the 11-1 that we started,” Brandon Nimmo said. “But that’s baseball. That’s why they play 162 games, so we can find out who the best teams are over the long-term course of the season.”

The Nationals went 3-for-4 with two walks and two hit-by-pitches in the deciding seventh inning. Three Mets relievers allowed five runs, one more than the bullpen had given up in its previous 22 2⁄3 innings.

Anthony Swarzak walked his only two batters and mixed in an errant throw to second on a would-be pickoff. Tim Peterson recorded two outs but also allowed two singles, including pinch hitter Daniel Murphy’s two-run line drive to right to put Washington ahead. Jerry Blevins hit consecutive batters with pitches to force in a run. The inning ended only when Trea Turner, who drove in two more with a single off Blevins, got picked off/caught stealing second.

That sequence represented an unfortunately appropriate ending to the first half for Swarzak (7.47 ERA) and Blevins (5.01 ERA). Swarzak has walked 10 batters in 15 1⁄3 innings, by far the highest rate of his career.

“I’ve been a strike-thrower my whole career. Today, I walked another two guys. You can’t do that,” he said. “I’m not going to let 10 innings dictate my career or my time as a Met. My last 10 innings haven’t been too good, but there’s a lot of baseball left.”

Both teams swung in the early innings as if they had four days of vacation awaiting them. Mets righthander Corey Oswalt (one run) needed only 59 pitches in five innings. Washington righty Jeremy Hellickson (one run) threw 73 in six. The first 4 1⁄2 innings — half the game — took only an hour.

Despite the low pitch count, Mickey Callaway lifted Oswalt in the fifth to take a shot at driving in Jose Reyes from third with two outs. It didn’t work, with pinch hitter Dominic Smith getting hit by a pitch and Nimmo flying out to center.

“It came down to us trying to score some runs,” Callaway said. “Hits were hard to come by at that point. We were doing everything we could to try to score a run there.”

The hope — Callaway’s hope — is that time away from the ballpark will do the Mets some good after a miserable three months.

“We need to regroup and start playing baseball the way we’re capable of,” he said Sunday morning. “We’ve been feeling it in the last week, that it’s starting to come — we’ve been playing better games.

“We’re in a really good spot. I think three or four days off is going to allow us to take a deep breath, come back and start playing the game the way we need to play.”

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