WASHINGTON -- One of the most hyped Mets seasons in history already peeling back at the edges, manager Terry Collins paused and sighed when asked about the must-win nature of Wednesday's series finale at Nationals Park.
The Mets entered the night losers of three straight, two of those against the arch-rival Nats. Additional series loomed against the Cubs, Marlins and Nationals -- all playoff threats -- making a still young season seem a little bit older.
With all of that in mind three hours before game time, Collins finally admitted: "I think we need to win tonight."
The monumental task fell from there to Logan Verrett, who has spent this season shuttling between the rotation, the bullpen and Triple-A Las Vegas. Before 33,386 fans smelling blood, the Mets asked Verrett to defeat Max Scherzer, a perennial Cy Young award candidate who recently struck out 20 batters in a game. The result was a 4-2 loss that offered a Polaroid of the Mets' predicament.
David Wright is hurt. Lucas Duda is hurt. Nearly every other member of the Mets' Opening Day lineup is either slumping, battling injury or both. And the starting rotation, the Mets' unquestioned strength throughout the past few seasons, is beginning to weather its own set of aches.
Such were the circumstances that surrounded the Mets' trip to Washington, a three-game affair that, if all went well, could have ended them tied for first place. Instead, the Nationals won all three, pushing the Mets six games back of their rivals. Even during last season's unproductive first half, the Mets never fell more than 4 1/2 games out of first.
To dig themselves out of that hole and ultimately win the pennant, the Mets needed to execute an 11th-hour Plan C trade for Yoenis Cespedes, then watch him and others catch fire like never before in their careers. It was such a baseball miracle that Mets officials have cautioned against expecting something so extreme to happen again.
"They're Major League players," Collins said. "So you've got to understand, if they keep mounting adding pressure on themselves, they're going to continue to struggle."
On Wednesday, Verrett did his part, giving the Mets five solid innings as a last-minute replacement for Steven Matz, who is nursing a bone spur in his pitching elbow. The rest of the Mets simply couldn't do theirs, mustering two hits off Scherzer in 7 1/3 innings. It was a mismatch from the start, and the Mets could not tip the balance.
"I felt like I kept us in the game," Verrett said, "and gave us a chance to come back and win it."
The Mets simply didn't. And things will not grow any easier from here, with the Cubs, Marlins and Nationals -- all teams with better records than them -- standing between this club and the All-Star break.
"I don't think we've played half our games yet," outfielder Curtis Granderson said. "So there's still a lot of things left that can and hopefully will happen."
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.