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Previously hot Mets humbled by rival Nats

After winning five of six games, New York has lost three straight
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Though the Mets had little reason to watch the standings heading into this weekend against the Nationals, they knew what the four-game series represented. After two and a half months of near-irrelevance in the postseason picture, the Mets had a chance to announce their presence. They were playing well. They seemed primed to spark to life.

Instead, the Nationals have smothered them and their hopes. The Mets' 7-4 loss on Saturday was their sixth in as many games against the Nats at Citi Field this season. New York has yet to lead at any point this series, trailing for 25 of the 27 innings.

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NEW YORK -- Though the Mets had little reason to watch the standings heading into this weekend against the Nationals, they knew what the four-game series represented. After two and a half months of near-irrelevance in the postseason picture, the Mets had a chance to announce their presence. They were playing well. They seemed primed to spark to life.

Instead, the Nationals have smothered them and their hopes. The Mets' 7-4 loss on Saturday was their sixth in as many games against the Nats at Citi Field this season. New York has yet to lead at any point this series, trailing for 25 of the 27 innings.

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As a result, the Mets have fallen into a tie for third place in the National League East, trailing both the Nationals and the NL Wild Card-leading Diamondbacks and Dodgers by double-digit games.

"Most teams want to be in a better spot right now," outfielder Jay Bruce said. "We obviously came into Spring Training with a very talented team on paper, and we've had a lot of injuries. But I think we're a group of professionals that understand the process, and understand it's a long season, understand that we have injuries. No one's feeling sorry for us. We have a job to do.

"At the end of the day, this is our job and we owe it to ourselves, to the team, to the franchise, to the city to play baseball."

Throughout the Mets' three-hour, 32-minute loss to Washington on Saturday, the Mets fought and fought. Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes combined for seven hits. Starting pitcher Seth Lugo battled back from a rocky start to pitch into the seventh. Cespedes and Jose Reyes keyed a promising eighth-inning rally.

Video: WSH@NYM: Reyes plates Flores with an RBI single

But each time the Mets drew close, the Nationals came up with a key double play or add-on run to pull out of arm's reach.

Afterward, manager Terry Collins lauded his veteran players for continuing to focus on the task at hand, rather than their individual free-agent contracts or statistics.

"That can't be in your thought process," Collins said. "The process has to be, 'What can I do today to help us win a game?' And if you do those things, at the end of the year, the numbers will be there."

But from a team perspective, it may already be too late for the Mets. Although the Mets often point to their second-half runs in 2015 and '16 as evidence that they can rally, they never fell double-digit games behind the Nationals in '15 or the Wild Card leaders last year. A comeback in 2017 would require more magic than they've ever expended, despite a roster still missing some of its most critical parts: Noah Syndergaard, David Wright, Neil Walker, Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey, to name five.

Soon, the conversation may shift to the Mets becoming sellers at the Trade Deadline -- and it didn't have to be that way. This weekend offered a chance for the Mets to climb back into contention. Instead, they've slipped ever further out of it.

"We're going to keep playing," Collins said. "That's all you can do. You can't tuck your tail between your legs and run and hide. This is the big leagues. When you play good teams, you'd better play well."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

New York Mets