Offense lets Mets down in D.C. finale

Offense lets Mets down in D.C. finale

WASHINGTON -- Once again the Mets bats were as quiet as the players have been after the games. Another defeat, this time a 3-1 loss to Washington at Nationals Park on Wednesday, produced more questions than answers.

Being shut out by Nationals ace John Lannan on Tuesday was one thing, but following that with just four hits off rookie pitcher Craig Stammen?

Dropping three of four to the Braves was bad, but losing six of their past seven series, including the latest against the now 28-66 Nationals?

Being below .500 was cause for concern, but falling more than five games under for the first time since the end of the 2004 season?

All this led manager Jerry Manuel to question whether his team has a chance at competing for a playoff spot.

"We have to evaluate what we have going forward and see if it's enough to compete," Manuel said. "You talk about a gap in talent ... Right now we are where we are. We have a lot to overcome."

On a positive note, starter Mike Pelfrey threw seven solid innings. After allowing nine earned runs to the Braves last week, he had zip back on his fastball and gave his team every chance to win.

But the lineup produced minimal offense, and the defense made a costly mistake.

Right fielder Jeff Francoeur lost an Adam Dunn line drive in the lights, leaving him ducking for cover as the ball sailed past him.

"There's really no explanation, but it went straight in the lights, and you can't see [anything]," Francoeur said. "It happened to two of our guys here last year when I was with the Braves. There are some low lights here, what else are you going to do?"

Two batters later, with the score knotted at 1, Pelfrey made his one big mistake, hanging a slider that Josh Willingham drilled for a two-run homer over the visitors' bullpen in left. For the night, Willingham went 4-for-4, with nine total bases.

"I look back on the start, and I thought I threw the ball well," Pelfrey said. "I thought, maybe for the first time this year, 'That's me. That's the Mike that hasn't been there for a while.' I made one bad pitch on the slider, and it was his night. On top of that, Stammen was pretty good, too."

Stammen was perfect though four innings, needing just 38 pitches to retire the first 12 batters.

Having been shut out for 14 consecutive innings dating back to Tuesday, the Mets lit the Nationals Park scoreboard with a run in the sixth, albeit with some help.

With two outs in the inning, Angel Pagan laced a pitch to center field, and as he pulled into third with a stand-up triple, cutoff man Cristian Guzman made an ill-advised and inaccurate throw that landed in the Mets' dugout, awarding Pagan home plate.

That was the only run the Mets would score. Stammen went an out deep into the eighth, and the Nats' bullpen prevented another baserunner from reaching.

"We've scored one run in two games, and tonight's run was on a throwing error, so it's not been a lot of fun the last two days," Francoeur said.

In seven games since the All-Star break, the Mets have scored 16 runs. They are batting .196 with eight extra-base hits during that time.

With Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado on the disabled list, the Mets' offense has offered limited punch. On Wednesday, backup-turned-starter Alex Cora was out because of a sore thumb, and second baseman Luis Castillo was ejected for the first time in his 13-year career for arguing a call at second base.

"It's obviously a struggle, and it's a challenge, and we are not meeting that challenge," David Wright said. "We are having a tough time at the plate scoring runs."

"We haven't played very well, period," Manuel said. "If you are to hold on to the strand of hope that's out there, it's got to be in pitching. ... When you're in the situation we're in, every team we play, because of our depletion of talent, every team we play, they're going to be in the game."

Mark Selig is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.