WASHINGTON -- With three days to go until the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Mets have been advertising themselves as a team to be reckoned with. Forget fire sales; they are not bullish on the idea of trading anyone, because they consider themselves at least a decent team. Possibly even something more.
It is a noble line of thinking, but one that lost a touch of credibility this weekend. The Nationals pulverized Carlos Torres and the Mets on Sunday, 14-1, winning three of four games at Nationals Park to alter the landscape of New York's season.
"It's only a missed opportunity because we came in playing good," manager Terry Collins said. "We played good the first night. Yesterday, we didn't swing the bats and gave up some home runs. Today, we just got pounded."
As recently as Friday evening, the Mets were entertaining thoughts of a second-place perch and even a fringe Wild Card run in the weak National League East. Instead, they find themselves squarely back in fourth, despite all that trade candidate Marlon Byrd and others can do.
Sunday's scapegoat was Torres, whose sterling run as a starting pitcher screeched to a halt when he served up eight runs on nine hits in three innings. After breezing through a scoreless first, Torres gave up an RBI single to Wilson Ramos and a two-run single to Bryce Harper with two outs in the second. An inning later, Ramos' grand slam punctuated a five-run rally, which knocked Torres from the game.
"It was just one of those cases where ground balls were finding holes," said Torres, whose ERA ballooned from 0.94 to 3.13. "The balls that they hit were dropping in from the outfield with some timely, big hits. They're a good team, and you have to give credit where credit's due."
The Mets scored only once off Nationals rookie starter Taylor Jordan, whose six innings of one-run ball were enough for his first career victory. With David Wright out of the lineup for a routine day of rest, Byrd led the offense with two hits and an RBI. But his efforts went for naught in a game already out of hand by the time the Mets pushed across their first run.
"It's kind of a constant thing that we've fought for a lot of the year is the lack of run production," Collins said. "But we've been winning games because we've pitched, allowing us to get chances. When you get way behind, you can't get very aggressive on the bases and it kind of changes the way you play."
In theory, the Mets should enjoy some reprieve this week, when they travel to Miami -- players donned Panama hats and stylish beach wear for the occasion -- for a four-game set against the Marlins. But the Mets have struggled mightily this year with one of baseball's worst teams, losing all but three of their 11 contests against the Fish.
"We've got to pick it up and get into Miami and play better," Collins said, "and certainly pitch better than we did today."
During that upcoming series, the non-waiver Trade Deadline will pass, providing insight into the Mets' short-term plans. Hanging onto Byrd would signify their desire to salvage something from this season. Trading him would quite clearly indicate that they are looking forward to 2014.
Consider it among the many roster uncertainties that the Mets must solve in upcoming weeks. The team recently shifted to a six-man starting rotation in part because of the unexpected depth that Torres and Jenrry Mejia provided. The goal was to limit the rapidly-escalating innings totals of young starting pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler by giving them extra days of rest each week.
But if Torres begins struggling as he has in years past with other teams, it could throw a sizable wrench into those plans.
"Today was one of those games where it was unfortunate, because we also had to use a lot of the bullpen," Torres said. "That's where I need to step up and eat up more innings, even if a situation like that arises again. We still need to get into the next couple games next series with a fresher bullpen than we had today."