But with 15 losses in their past 20 games, even manager Terry Collins wondered if the positive strides from earlier this season are now being negated by the team's mounting losses and sloppy play. With Sunday's 6-2 loss, which completed Milwaukee's sweep, the Mets dropped six games under .500 for the first time since May 4.
And now they head to Philly to face the NL East leaders, before returning to Citi Field to play host to the wild-card-leading Atlanta Braves.
"We accomplished a lot of things this year, overachieving with some people," Collins said. "I'm very concerned about the players right now, just with the way that things have gone the past couple of weeks. When Jose [Reyes] and Murph [Daniel Murphy] went down, we had to pick ourselves up, and we have failed to do that.
"Our fans have stuck by us. We've played hard. We will continue to play hard. That will not be a factor. That will not be an issue. But we certainly have not played well enough to win."
Collins was even second-guessing himself Sunday, although he subsequently acknowledged it may be out of frustration. After Lucas Duda's two-run homer in the seventh inning off All-Star Yovani Gallardo evened the score at 2, the Mets had two runners on and two out with the pitcher's spot due up.
Although R.A. Dickey had been pitching splendidly and was at 82 pitches, Collins went with the no-brainer move to lift the knuckleballer for pinch-hitter Willie Harris. Harris flied out, the runners were stranded and the Mets' bullpen coughed up four runs over the next two innings.
The bullpen now has six August losses, tied for most in the majors. The relief corps has a 5.95 ERA since July 23.
"R.A. pitched a great game. I'll take this one," Collins said, referring to responsibility. "I have great confidence in my players. I really do. I think we can get the job done. I've obviously been wrong. We can't stop anything. I should have stayed with R.A., see if we can keep the game tied. I thought we'd try to play to win there. We just can't stop anybody."
Said Dickey: "Willie Harris is a much better hitter than I am, and we had a runner on second base at the time. Obviously I want to keep pitching. But, at the same time, I want to win much more. Obviously that was the right move."
Collins had plenty of frustrations.
After Duda's game-tying homer, Jason Bay sent a shot that struck the top of the 16-foot wall in left field and stayed in play for a double. (Next season, the homer line on the wall is expected to be reduced to eight feet, meaning Bay's shot would have been a homer.) Josh Thole said he got a bunt sign, but he failed to advance Bay. Jason Pridie popped out. Ruben Tejada then received an intentional walk to force Collins' hand with respect to pulling Dickey, which the manager did.
A half-inning later, Collins was agitated about other execution failures by the Mets.
Reliever Manny Acosta, inserted into the tie ballgame because he had demonstrated solid control of late, walked leadoff batter Nyjer Morgan -- with Ryan Braun, then Prince Fielder due up. After Acosta then surrendered a single to Braun that put runners on the corners, Collins turned to left-hander Tim Byrdak.
The manager opted for his team to play at double-play depth, essentially conceding the go-ahead run in order to get two outs if Fielder hit a grounder. Fielder complied with the grounder, sending a ball to second baseman Justin Turner. But Tejada could not handle Turner's slighty off-the-mark throw and everyone was safe. Morgan scored the decisive run.
"It was a tough throw," Tejada said. "The ball cut a little bit."
Said Collins: "We're not mounting much of an offense. We're not stopping on the defensive side. It's pretty tough right now."
So what now?
Well, the Mets will keep plugging away, with the motivation being that guys are playing for 2012 jobs here -- or somewhere in the majors. No speeches needed.
"It's August the 20th. You can only say that so many times," Thole said. "There's a point where you've just got to get it done. And I think that's the point where we're at. We can say, 'Yeah, we fought back. We played hard. We did all this.' I think we're getting to the point now where pretty much everybody has been here most of the year and knows the ups and downs of it. We know we've got to fight through it. We have to get the job done."
Asked if what the Mets had accomplished this year was now being negated, Dickey said: "I think it's going to be tested. I don't know about negated, for me. A lot of guys in here have come a long way since the beginning of the season. ... My hope is that, although we were tested, we come out on the other side of it with a good amount of growth going into what hopefully will be a stepping stone to a championship."
Collins acknowledged frustration. The manager said that may be the root of his lament in pinch-hitting for Dickey.
"I'm allowed to be frustrated. I'm frustrated, because he pitched great," Collins said. "I said, 'This may be our last chance to score. Let's try to get a hit here.' ... But when you can't stop the other team, you look back and say, 'S---, maybe we should have worried about stopping them first.'"