CHICAGO -- Six games into the most important juncture of their season to date, a nine-game road trip coming out of the All-Star break, the Mets are 3-3. After losing, 6-2, to the Cubs on Wednesday, they jetted off to Miami, where they will play the role of challenger. It will be the defending National League champions chasing the second-place Marlins, not the other way around.
Welcome to must-win baseball. Welcome to the rest of the season.
"This is what this time of year brings," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "When you're in a pennant race, they're big games against big teams against good pitching. That's why the game's great and that's why it's fun."
"Fun" might not be the word some would use to describe a Mets club scratching and clawing without David Wright, Matt Harvey and Lucas Duda -- and proceeding with, statistically, one of the three worst offenses in Major League Baseball. Wednesday's loss was the same old story for a Mets team that finished 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, doing all of its damage on a Wilmer Flores homer once the game was already largely out of hand.
But the Mets have a chance to make up for all of it this weekend, playing one of several teams they are directly chasing. After that, it will be three games against the Cardinals, another club in the thick of the NL Wild Card hunt. Nothing is going to slow down for the Mets from here.
"It's going to be like that for the rest of the year," said infielder Kelly Johnson, who went 4-for-4 Wednesday. "How many series are we going to play that are going to have no bearing? They're all going to have some sort of bearing. We're just going to have to go out and win as many as we can."
Added Flores: "We've just got to win every game that we play. It doesn't matter if it's an important series or not. We've got to win -- that's it."
But general manager Sandy Alderson has already hinted that while the Mets are likely to land a reliever in the coming weeks, and perhaps even a starting pitcher, they are unlikely to make the type of big-splash trade that landed them Cespedes. Even with a new addition or two, the Mets are going to have to win largely with what they have in-house.
That begins Friday, against a hungry Marlins team much improved from a year ago. The NL East-leading Nationals are better, too. The degree of difficulty has increased for a Mets team entering its most critical juncture.
"They're all big now," Collins said. "We knew coming out of the break that we had the Cubs, we had the Marlins, it was going to be big. We're sitting here right now going into the Marlins and they're playing very, very well. We've got to go win two. We've got to make up some ground. There's no doubt it's going to be a big weekend for us."
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.