Colon battles but Mets can't find way past Nats

Righty has one tough inning in series-opening defeat in DC

Colon battles but Mets can't find way past Nats

WASHINGTON -- There is not much left for the Mets to spoil. Here in the District, the Nationals -- unlike that other NL East contender in Atlanta, whose playoff chances the Mets thoroughly sabotaged over the weekend -- appear to be in fine form heading into October. At best this week, the Mets can slightly ding Washington's bid for home-field sovereignty in the NL playoffs.

All of which is to say that with five games left in the regular season, New York's focus has shifted entirely inward. The Mets' 4-2 loss to the Nats on Tuesday night followed news of general manager Sandy Alderson's contract extension, which will keep him pulling their strings through at least 2017. Manager Terry Collins will be back as well, sharpening the organization's focus heading into the winter.

Yet while looking inward, Alderson can't help but keep one eye trained on the Nats. If the Mets take anything out of this week's three-game series in Washington, perhaps it will be their firsthand look at one of the sport's best teams. Once perennial basement-dwellers, in far worse shape than the Mets are now, the Nats have transformed in recent seasons into the class of the league.

The Mets want to be there, too. And they'll eventually have to go through Washington to do it.

"At this point, the Nationals are the measure by which we're all evaluated in the National League East," Alderson said. "That's where we have to get. Frankly, they're probably the best, or one of the two of the three best teams, in all of baseball -- certainly in the National League. That's the level to which we have to aspire."

For much of Tuesday's loss, the Mets hung around that level, matching the Nationals inning by inning. But Adam LaRoche's three-run homer off Bartolo Colon in the fifth undid them, and some strong Nationals defense ensured things would stay that way.

"They beat you in so many ways," Collins said. "They can beat you with power, they can beat you with speed, they can beat you with pitching and they can beat you with defense. That's why they're good and that's why they sit where they are."

Making his penultimate start of the season, Colon had been cruising up until that point, retiring eight straight batters from the first through fourth innings. But after Kevin Frandsen led off the fifth with a single -- "the key to the game," Colon said afterward -- Michael Taylor opened Washington's scoring with an RBI double. Colon added fuel to the rally by walking Jayson Werth with two outs before grooving a 1-0 fastball that LaRoche lined over the right-field fence.

"We don't make the pitches we've got to make," Collins said, explaining LaRoche's success against the Mets this season. "He's like everybody -- there's a way to get him out. We're just not getting the ball to where we can do that."

The Mets, who took a brief lead off Nats starter Tanner Roark on Kirk Nieuwenhuis' RBI double in the top of the fifth, fought back with another run on Ruben Tejada's sacrifice fly in the seventh. But despite twice loading the bases that inning, the Mets could not draw closer.

In the eighth, they put a man on third base with one out, but Bryce Harper's strong throw on a potential sac fly prevented the Mets from attempting to score. That came five innings after Denard Span robbed Matt den Dekker of an extra-base hit with a tumbling catch at the wall in the third, apparently injuring himself in the process.

And so the Nationals did what they have done all season in laying waste to the rest of the NL East, establishing themselves as the division's only winning team. The win moved them a half-game closer to clinching home-field advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs.

For that, the Nationals can largely thank the Mets.

"Our record against them this season has not been very good," said Alderson, whose team fell to 3-14 against the Nats despite a 73-67 record against everyone else. "They have a quality player at virtually every position. Their rotation is excellent. They've got a great bullpen. I think [general manager] Mike Rizzo and the Nationals have done a terrific job. And that's where we have to get."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.