PITTSBURGH -- Early Tuesday afternoon, back when it wasn't so hard to muster some optimism, Mets manager Terry Collins was asked about the art of lineup construction. He began leafing through a phone-book wide binder on his desk, flipping past pages and pages of computer-generated data.
"There's a lot of suggestions in there," Collins said.
Over the next 18 innings, the Mets would go on to score two runs, collect nine hits, lose two games to the Pirates -- each one a 3-1 final -- and later trudge back over the Roberto Clemente Bridge wondering just how they might be able to overcome this offensive swoon.
"There's no instant fix," Collins said. "There's no scrambling the lineup, taking this guy out. It's the total package. You've got to get everybody going. We're not hitting as a group."
This, of course, is a Mets team that intimately understands these sorts of struggles, spending most of the first half of last year ranked dead last in the Majors in just about every major offensive category. That all changed when Yoenis Cespedes and friends arrived at the Trade Deadline, transforming the Mets into one of the league's better offensive teams.
Having Cespedes back on a three-year deal was supposed to help prevent that sort of thing from happening again, but the Mets have fallen flat since Lucas Duda and David Wright joined Travis d'Arnaud on the disabled list. With those three out of the lineup, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Cespedes have all fallen into deep freezes; Cespedes in particular finished 0-for-7 in the doubleheader, insisting to Collins between games that his sore right hip is healthy enough for him to play.
"I'm a little bit lost at the plate," Cespedes said through an interpreter. "I'm not Superman."
The Mets' only run in the day game came on a Granderson homer. In the nightcap, they scored on an RBI single from catcher Kevin Plawecki, who has all but lost his regular job due to offensive struggles. Eleven of the Mets' final 12 batters went down harmlessly against a quartet of Pirates relievers.
It is turning into a carbon copy of what happened last year, when the Mets struggled offensively for much of May, June and July. Since the start of this May, they are three games below .500, their excellent-but-imperfect starting pitching unable to pick up a floundering offense.
How they proceed from here is the question. Of the Mets' injured starters, d'Arnaud is closest to returning, but may still be more than two weeks away. Duda won't be back in uniform until around the All-Star break, while Wright is likely to be absent until August. The histories of Granderson, Cespedes and Conforto suggest they will all improve as the season progresses. But the Mets need more from everyone.
For their stuttering lineup, it can't come soon enough.
"When you're scuffling a little bit like this, you've just got to keep grinding, you've got to keep putting good at-bats together," second baseman Neil Walker said. "And things will turn around for this group. We're way too good."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.