WASHINGTON (AP) -This is supposed to be the NL's best team?
This is the carefully assembled squad with a payroll that tops $115 million?
What happened to the New York Mets?
It's the last half of September, less than two weeks left in the regular season, and right now the Mets are, well, amazingly bad.
``These games are crucial,'' third baseman David Wright said. ``We need to be peaking and playing the kind of baseball we're capable of - and obviously we're not.''
Here, then, are the sobering totals for first-place New York after Monday night's 12-4 loss to the trying-to-avoid-last-place Washington Nationals: four consecutive defeats, a franchise-record 10 errors in two games, a dwindling NL East edge over the Philadelphia Phillies that was down to 2 1/2 games heading into Tuesday.
``We're not playing the game the right way. We're lackadaisical on defense. It seems like we're not playing to win. We're being very passive,'' Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca said. ``There are no excuses. We're getting paid a lot of money.''
They also are doing a lot wrong lately, with all sorts of mental and physical miscues in the field and plenty of poor relief pitching. This was, after all, a game in which New York took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth against a club that has scored fewer runs than any other team in the major leagues.
And then the Nationals proceeded to score four runs in the fourth, one in the fifth, four in the sixth and three in the seventh.
From a 4-0 lead for the Mets, to a 12-4 lead for the Nationals, just like that.
``We shot ourselves in the foot a few times. ... Just throwing balls away, being a little sloppy,'' said Wright, whose fielding error helped Washington put together that big sixth inning with only one hit.
``The intensity is there. The will to way is there. I just don't think the execution is there.''
The Mets never had more than eight errors over two games until making six Sunday plus Monday's four, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Heck, even Casey Stengel's woeful '62 Mets never had a fielding fiasco of this magnitude.
``They're human, too,'' said Washington manager Manny Acta, who was New York's third-base coach in 2005-06.
One thing seems clear: The Mets are not going to start taking swipes at each other. Not yet, anyway.
Lo Duca did sound a note of caution, mentioning that he heard ``a lot of laughing, a lot of joyous people in the dugout when we went up 4-0. ... We need to play all nine innings or go home - bottom line.''
Neither of the men who run the team was pointing fingers publicly Monday night.
General manager Omar Minaya calmly walked through RFK Stadium's visitors' clubhouse shortly after the game, offering his players smiles and slaps on the shoulder.
``When you've got veteran players and you've got guys that want it, we'll find a way to figure it out,'' Minaya said. ``Everybody's together, and we're going to gut it out together.''
Manager Willie Randolph sounded a similar tone.
``Sometimes these things happen, and we have to find a way to get through it,'' he said. ``I know my guys are trying the best they can.''
No alarm bells there.
But this is a team that made it to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series last season and has been in first place almost all of this season. The Mets have led the division every single day since May 16 - that's more than four months - and held a seven-game margin on Sept. 12.
Most of that was given away with one really bad week.
``We're in the thick of the race right now. It's no longer, 'Win a handful of games and it's over,''' outfielder Shawn Green said. ``We've got to kick it in gear and play quality baseball the rest of the way.''

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