"We're a below-average team, period. That's all you can say," Manuel said. "If you're below .500, you're a below-average team."
Monday's loss was the fourth straight for the Mets, tying a season-high losing streak they have had three other times. The loss also dropped them to 37-38, the first time they've been under .500 since May 5, when they were 12-13.
Given the injuries New York has faced all season, Manuel said playing approximately .500 until the All-Star Break is going to have to be one of the goals for the team.
And while winning one out of every two games doesn't sound all that challenging, it can be -- and has proven to be -- for a lineup without most of the team's top players.
"We're trying to do everything we can to stay around there until we get some people back or get healthy or whatever," Manuel said of the .500 mark. "But right now, we're a below-average team."
The Mets came to Milwaukee looking to get back on track after getting swept by the Yankees over the weekend, and seemed to have the perfect guy to help them do so.
Nieve had won his first three starts for the Mets, but he couldn't get No. 4, as he was unable to get out of the fourth inning.
The right-hander took the loss, giving up three runs on 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings.
"I didn't have my stuff like I usually had before," said Nieve, who gave up three runs in his first three starts combined. "My fastball wasn't as good as it was before. I started getting behind on guys and they were pretty aggressive."
Elmer Dessens came in for Nieve (3-1) with the bases loaded, one out in the fourth and the Mets behind, 3-0. Dessens got Ryan Braun to fly out to right fielder Ryan Church, who then threw out Brewers starting pitcher Braden Looper at home plate for the third out to avoid any more damage.
New York put up two runs in the sixth inning thanks to an inning-extending error by Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee.
With Church on first, Fernando Martinez popped up to shallow left field. McGehee backpedaled for the seemingly easy catch, but the ball fell in and out of his glove. On the very next pitch, Brian Schneider smoked a double off the wall to score Church and Martinez and pull the Mets within one.
"The baseball gods up there, anytime you drop a ball like that something bad usually happens and we took advantage of that," Schneider said. "We made it a 3-2 game and let it get away."
The one-run deficit was short-lived, as McGehee redeemed himself in the bottom of the inning with a grand slam.
Looper (6-4) picked up the win, allowing three runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings.
The Mets rallied in the top of the ninth by scoring three runs, but the season-high 19 hits given up by their staff was too much to overcome, as Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman induced a grounder to earn a one-pitch save, his 18th of the year.
"We just have to know that when we get guys on we can get them in, and that's the key," said Gary Sheffield, who hit a two-run homer in the ninth, regarding the late-game rally sparking confidence in the club. "No matter what the score is or how the game is played out, you have to continue to work to get on base."
Despite the team's recent struggles and his more public talk of potential trades as of late, Manuel said he might not have much of a choice but to stick with his "below-average" team for the foreseeable future.
Although left-handed pitcher Oliver Perez is nearing the end of his comeback -- he is scheduled to make a rehab start in Triple-A Buffalo on Friday -- other players aren't on the same track.
Center fielder Carlos Beltran traveled to Colorado on Monday to get a second opinion on the bone bruise in his right knee, and the team has said that mid-July would be the earliest timetable for Jose Reyes' return from a partially torn right hamstring tendon.
Add in that power-hitting first baseman Carlos Delgado hasn't even begun to swing a bat yet after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, and it could be a while before the Mets shed their skipper's label.
"I haven't gotten anything favorable at this point, so this might be what we have to deal with for a while," said Manuel of any changes coming from either inside the organization or out. "What I have to do is figure out a way to get this group to play at its highest level."