That talk in spring training of the Mets' potential for a 90-win season long since has been brushed away. But the amended aim -- a realistic one that Terry Collins has embraced -- is for them to play "meaningful games'' as the season winds down.
"I think September is going to mean something,'' Collins said Tuesday.
Heck, with a little luck and a lot of pluck, they thought maybe -- just maybe -- they could even make a statement against the first-place Nationals.
Then they got swept.
Stifled during a vintage outing by Stephen Strasburg Thursday night, the Mets lost to Washington, 4-1, at Citi Field. The Nationals' third straight win in the series gave them 11 straight wins in Queens.
A statement was made, actually: If it wasn't already clear, there is a considerable divide between the Mets and the National League's true contenders.
"We've had our chances,'' David Wright said of his team, which has faced the Nationals six times since Aug. 5, losing the last five. "But those playoff teams, those good teams, seem to find a way to win close games.''
The Mets (57-65) fell 101/2 games behind in the NL East and 71/2 games back in the race for the second wild-card berth, behind six other teams. Even September relevance now seems a long shot.
Dillon Gee (4-5) allowed four runs, four hits and four walks in six innings. Gee, who typically has good control, has walked at least three batters in four straight starts, and this time it cost him. Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper each hit a two-run homer that was preceded by a walk.
"Command wasn't my strong suit tonight,'' Gee said. "I'm trying to work through it . . . but there's nothing that I can pinpoint that's causing the problem.''
With two outs in the first and LaRoche in an 0-and-2 hole, Gee left a 90-mph fastball over the middle, and it landed just beyond the wall in left-centerfield.
After Ian Desmond walked in the fourth, Gee's two-seamer drifted toward the center of the plate, and Harper hammered it into the bullpen in right. That gave the Nationals seven home runs in the series.
Gee struggled in July with a 6.08 ERA, but he seemingly righted himself last Saturday, holding the Phillies to a run in seven innings. That performance, obviously, didn't carry over.
Strasburg (9-10) rebounded from arguably his worst career start, giving up three hits and an unearned run and striking out eight in seven innings. Last Friday night, he allowed seven earned runs in five innings in a loss to the Braves. That performance, obviously, didn't carry over, either.
Daniel Murphy's baserunning helped the Mets get on the board in the fourth. He reached second on an infield single and throwing error, stole third and scored on Lucas Duda's sacrifice fly.
And Collins' hopes for a meaningful September? "We fought hard to get back in this thing,'' he said. "This was a big blow.''
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