All signs point to another tough year

ST. LOUIS -- It seems so long ago when Willie Randolph placed his arm around David Wright as they walked back to the team hotel across the street from old Busch Stadium in September 2005, chatting about the direction of the New York Mets as Randolph's first season as manager neared its conclusion.

It was late in the first full year of Omar Minaya's tenure as general manager, and "The New Mets" -- highlighted by Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran -- were stumbling badly during a three-city trip to Florida, Atlanta and St. Louis and fading from wild-card contention.

"This isn't going to be one of these teams where we get complacent with losing, where we get complacent with being a .500 team," Randolph told a 22-year-old Wright.

The arc of the Mets has been well-documented since that moment: Game 7 loss in the 2006 National League Championship Series, with Yadier Molina's homer and Adam Wainwright's strikeout of Beltran. Two straight collapses. A 92-loss season.

Randolph is gone. Minaya's six-year GM reign is imperiled if the losing persists.

And now, .500 seems like an acceptable, but maybe unrealistic, goal.

After a 5-3 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday night -- in which Wainwright scored the decisive run in his first game against the Mets since the '06 NLCS, on a two-run homer by Ryan Ludwick off Ryota Igarashi -- the Mets return home to Citi Field losers of four straight series to open the 2010 season.

How to feel about the Mets?

It's complicated.

You can't sugarcoat a 4-8 record. Yet they battle.

They don't have the arsenal to compete, as evidenced by Frank Catalanotto's subbing for slumping Jason Bay in the cleanup spot Sunday. Yet the promise of first base prospect Ike Davis' arrival at some point early in the upcoming series against the Chicago Cubs gives a reason to at least believe better days are ahead.

The starting pitching is beginning to show life. After all, Mike Pelfrey tossed seven scoreless innings Thursday in Colorado. Oliver Perez took a similar bid into the seventh the following day against the Cardinals. And then Johan Santana matched Pelfrey's performance Saturday. Yet John Maine, progress and all Sunday, still allowed three runs -- on a homer by Colby Rasmus -- while running up a pitch count of 115 in five innings.

"I think our starting pitching settled down and really found a comfort zone," Wright said. "Our bullpen has looked for the most part pretty solid. Hopefully there's some more hits to be had offensively for us in the near future.

"I mean, it is what it is. We haven't won a series yet. So it's disappointing in the fact that we're not getting the results that we want. I like the group of guys that we have. I think that we're preparing the way we should prepare. What's going on inside the clubhouse, and the mentality, is where it needs to be. We just need to do a better job of going out there and executing."

Said manager Jerry Manuel: "Pitching-wise, which is very key for us, I think we'll be OK. I think we feel that we have some solutions in the bullpen. We think that our starters have been relatively good. I think offensively we've got to take it up a notch. We are really struggling in that area in the sense that I don't recollect too many extra-base hits that we've had lately."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.