MIAMI - The Mets began the second half with 15 straight games against foes from the National League East. The critical stretch represented a chance to gain ground, an opportunity to justify leaving this roster unchanged before Wednesday's nonwaiver trade deadline.
But the Mets found themselves merely running in place.
In a 3-0 loss to the Marlins Thursday, the Mets squandered a solid start from Matt Harvey, the latest example of a maddening inability to hit with runners in scoring position.
"We don't drive runs in," manager Terry Collins said. "There's no secret . . . If we knew what it was, we'd fix it. Guys don't drive them in."
After taking a one-hit shutout into the sixth, Harvey allowed three runs in 52/3 innings, but the Mets stranded 11 runners and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. They were shut out for the fourth time this season and for the first time since May 25.
"We've revisited this enough times this year," Collins said after the Mets again stuck Harvey with poor run support.
The Mets began the second half nine games under .500. on Thursday's loss dropped them to 48-58. In two weeks, they have remained in virtually the same place. And things won't get easier this weekend with the Royals bringing a nine-game winning streak into Citi Field.
"There's nothing wrong with the approach," Collins said. "We're not taking good swings on the pitches we can hit. We're fouling pitches off that we should be hitting, therefore we're not driving [runners] in."
Harvey (8-3, 2.21 ERA) paid the price for that inability.
He dominated early, retiring the first eight hitters he faced before Stony Brook product Tom Koehler -- who allowed five hits and five walks in six innings to lift his record to 3-6 -- singled to right. Through five innings, Harvey allowed only one other baserunner, Giancarlo Stanton, who reached on an error in the fourth.
Harvey allowed consecutive singles to Juan Pierre and Christian Yelich to begin the sixth, putting runners on first and third, but retired Adeiny Hechavarria on a liner to short and struck out Stanton.
Harvey then allowed an RBI single by Logan Morrison and plunked Ed Lucas to load the bases before Solano finished him off by winning a nine-pitch battle. He fouled off six pitches, two of them fastballs that registered at 98 mph, before finally getting a slider he could handle. His soft line-drive single to rightfield drove in two runs and gave the Marlins a 3-0 lead.
It was the last of Harvey's 110 pitches and his last this season at Marlins Park, where he has a 4.59 ERA in three starts.
"My job is to put up zeros," Harvey said, dismissing the impact of poor run support. "Obviously, I didn't do that today. I'm not happy about it."
But it was the Mets' offense that should bear the brunt of the blame.
The Mets got a bad break in the fifth when centerfielder Jake Marisnick made a diving catch of Marlon Byrd's drive to right-center. It not only deprived Byrd of a run-scoring hit but ended a rally as David Wright was doubled off first. It was the closest the Mets came to a big hit.
Byrd believes a team turnaround at the plate is possible, citing the success of hitters such as the Cardinals' Allen Craig with runners in scoring position. Similar success is within reach, Byrd said, through improved preparation.
"They never stray from their approach at any time," Byrd said. "It's kind of a mind-set and a physical thing."
For the Mets, finding an answer to their offensive problems will shape how the remainder of the second half unfolds. During their 15-game stretch against the NL East, the Mets hit .232 with runners in scoring position. That proved to be good enough to tread water but not enough to move forward.
"Yeah, we had opportunities," Collins said. "We've got to figure out what we're doing here."
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