If the Mets were trying to convince people that they aren't going to fade out of sight in the second half for the third straight season, they sure have a funny way of showing it.
They got swept in Atlanta over the weekend and every loss provided new reason to wonder if the Mets made some kind of deal with the devil to get them to the All-Star break with a winning record. It wasn't a full-on meltdown as they could have won two of the games, but the results certainly make it feel like one.
Chris Young spent Friday night providing ample argument for why you don't want to be relying on Chris Young as a key part of the rotation when you're trying to make it to the playoffs. Saturday found R.A. Dickey allowing five runs for the third time in his last four starts, a blistering splash of cold water after his remarkable run although Dickey left the game with a chance to win.
The relievers took care of that, living right down to the reputation for ineptitude they painstakingly crafted over the first three-plus months of the season. Bobby Parnell was the final culprit, although he had plenty of help from a group that comes out of the bullpen with all the confidence of a gladiator thrust into the arena with feral animals trying to kill them.
Johan Santana made it easier for the pen to relax on Sunday, although not in a positive way. Santana got knocked around, thanks in part to C.B. Bucknor's perplexing strike zone, and the relievers didn't have to worry about blowing a game that had already been blown.
It didn't help that the offense, which did its part in the first two days, got completely shut down by Ben Sheets. Sheets has a strong track record, although any solace on that front is tempered by the fact that he hadn't pitched in the big leagues in almost a year before shutting the Mets down on Sunday.
So the Mets have dropped 6.5 games behind the Nationals right before a series with them in Washington that now feels like one the Mets have to win. Not a sweep, necessarily, but two out of three to at least keep everyone from pushing the panic button that every Mets fan keeps close to his or her heart.
Too extreme? Perhaps, but history is tough to shake.
The Mets stumbled out of the break by losing nine of 11 games in 2010 and six of 10 last year to start rapid fades into oblivion. This is also the 13th time they've been swept in Turner Field, a record that makes it easy to jump to tragic conclusions.
If this year is going to break those losing trends, now is the time for the Mets to show it. If they don't, they will once again be nothing more than the team that cried contender and no one's going to believe it the next time around.
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