As the Mets have gone about recasting themselves over the last few seasons, the Nationals have always been there, ready to deliver instant progress reports. Few have been flattering.
That dynamic played out once more Wednesday night, when the Mets absorbed a 3-2 loss to the Nationals, leaders of the NL East, winners of 10 straight at Citi Field, and constant tormentors to a team that is increasingly playing for next year.
Dating back to last season, the Mets have lost 14 of 16 meetings overall.
"They're a really tough lineup," said Mets starter Bartolo Colon, who lost despite allowing just two runs (one earned) in seven innings. "And they play really well against us."
If the Mets aspire to be anything other than also-rans, they must at some point change their fortunes against the Nationals. And earlier in the day, a partial picture emerged of what role Terry Collins will play moving forward.
According to a report by CBSSports.com, Collins will likely return to the manager's seat next season, when he's set to begin the final year of his contract. No final decision has been made about the manager's fate. But the report matches a growing sense within the organization that -- barring a collapse in the homestretch -- Collins will oversee what could be a turnaround season in this tedious rebuilding.
First, Collins will have to endure what is shaping up to be the Mets' sixth-straight losing season, and the fourth under his watch. While the Mets have amassed an enviable stable of young pitchers, they have failed to augment it with a lineup to match.
That disparity has emerged against the Nationals, who have outscored the Mets 70-20 during their 10-game win streak in Queens. Even on a night in which the Nationals seemed willing to give away runs, the Mets never took advantage.
Leftfielder Kevin Frandsen dropped Travis d'Arnaud's routine fly ball to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. And after the Nationals took a 2-1 lead in the seventh, they made two errors to help the Mets load the bases. Given two shots the score, the Mets misfired, leaving the bases full.
Asdrubal Cabrera hit a solo shot in the eighth, which proved critical in the ninth, when d'Arnaud homered to cut it to 3-2. But again, the Mets fizzled, their rally done in when Matt den Dekker was thrown out at the plate while trying to score on Eric Campbell's grounder to short. Umpires upheld the call after video review was used to determine whether Wilson Ramos blocked the plate, per the controversial new rule that has caused confusion all season.
"There really wasn't a lane to slide," said den Dekker, who slid directly into Ramos.
Things might have been different had Juan Lagares not popped up his sacrifice bunt attempt earlier in the ninth with den Dekker at first.
The Nationals haven't lost at Citi Field since June 28, 2013. Their 10-game winning streak here is the longest by an opposing team since the stadium opened in 2009.
"They gave us every opportunity to get back into the game," Collins said. "In the ninth inning, we certainly had a lot of opportunities. So yeah, this is a tough one, because they gave us a chance to beat them tonight."