NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins met with hitting coach Dave Hudgens late Friday morning at Citi Field and tried, in his words, "to come up with a game plan ... to come up with a new theory ... to come up with something that's going to unlock the hit box."
Collins paused for several moments while recounting the story.
"We haven't found it yet," he said.
For the 15th time in 17 home games since the All-Star break, the Mets lost on Friday, dropping a 3-1 game to the Astros. For the seventh straight game, they scored two or fewer runs, their longest such streak in 30 years. For the first time since 2009, they fell a dozen games under .500.
If the Mets believed a seven-game homestand against the last-place Rockies and Astros could ease their woes, they now know otherwise. Friday's defeat found the Mets outpitched, outhit and outplayed by the Astros, who flew to New York riding the worst 50-game stretch -- seven wins and 43 losses -- of any National League team in the past 113 years.
Not since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders had an NL team posted fewer wins over a 50-game run. But the Astros hardly seemed inept on Friday, tagging Jon Niese for the only runs they would need on back-to-back RBI doubles from Brandon Barnes and pitcher Jordan Lyles in the second inning.
"If you watch the games, you see it," third baseman David Wright said. "We're not scoring runs, and it puts a lot of pressure on our pitching to throw up zeros when we're getting one or two runs a game. Offensively, it's stating the obvious that we need to step it up and give our pitchers a little room for error."
A third run came in Niese's final inning, the seventh, on a Tyler Greene homer off the facing of the second deck in left field. By definition, Niese gave the Mets a quality start, striking out five and walking two.
But for the seventh consecutive game, the Mets scored two runs or fewer in support of their starting pitcher. Four of those games came against the Rockies and their 30th-ranked pitching staff. Friday's came against the Astros and their 27th-ranked bunch. It hardly seemed to make a difference.
Lyles, the youngest active starter in the Majors, allowed nothing more than Wright's solo homer -- the 200th of Wright's career -- in six innings, calling it "big for me" that he was able to escape a two-on, no-out jam in the second. Mostly, he cruised. The Mets mustered just three hits off Lyles and one against Houston's bullpen, which ranks 29th in baseball.
It meant little on this night that New York's own bullpen, which ranks 30th, did not allow a run for the first time since Sunday.
"I would say we're just in a funk," Wright said. "The few baserunners we do have, it puts a lot of pressure on our offense to come through the one or two chances that we have per game. We've just got to get through this and keep battling."
New York's struggles may not be as historic as those of the Astros, but they seem more painful because the Mets have fallen from a higher perch. Roughly seven weeks ago, the Mets sat 3 1/2 games out of first place, enjoying their spoils as one of the most surprising success stories in baseball.
Walking off the field Friday, the Mets were in last place, 20 1/2 games back of the Nationals.
"That's why I love this game," said Niese, who is under guaranteed contract longer than any other Mets player. "It humbles you real fast. It's gone on a little longer than I thought, but I know the guys are going to bounce back."
The Mets all stress that last point, their manager included.
"I walk through that locker room every day and I look at those names up there and I see good players," Collins said. "I mean, I see good players."
But good or bad, they are slumping to an extreme extent, unable to generate any sort of success -- to unlock the hit box, so to speak -- even against the league's worst teams. That the Mets will not play meaningful baseball in September has long been a foregone conclusion.
Still, they hoped to finish up better than this.
"I think you can probably see it," Niese said of the emotional state of his teammates. "It's real tough. I know a lot of these guys' personalities on the team, and they don't like to lose. It's not fun. At the same time, we've got to find a way to get it done."