NEW YORK: No, the headline is not an exaggeration; the Mets are “in desperate need of a win.” With yesterday’s 4-0 loss to the Braves, the Mets now find themselves five games back in the NL East.

And with the Phillies victory and recent extra-inning magic, they only trail the Mets by one-half game. Meaning if the Mets were to lose today, and the Phillies win, the Mets would enter the All-Star break six games behind, in third place.

Even if they are in second place, six games behind is not ideal when fashioning yourself as a contender.

With all of that being said, proving why the Mets are indeed “desperate” for a win, they will have their best chance to get one with Johan Santana on the mound today.

The Mets are 1-4 so far on their current home stand, and the one win came courtesy of Santana.

It came on Tuesday night against the Reds, a game in which Santana became the second-ever Mets starting pitcher to throw a complete game and hit a home run.

He was as dominant as he’s ever been in a Mets uniform, and it was probably the best game of his career.

He only allowed three hits, and the only other game he’s thrown of more importance was on Sept. 27, 2008, when he pitched a complete-game against the Marlins to keep the Mets alive on the final Saturday of the season.

His last start was followed by the one before, where he righted the ship against the Nationals. So it’s been going up for Santana recently, and the Mets hope it doesn’t sour this afternoon, when they need him the most.

The Mets will be facing sinkerballer Derek Lowe, who’s been as average as can be so far this season, his second with the Braves.

After signing a big four-year contract with Atlanta two offseasons ago, Lowe has been consistently inconsistent. He had an average season in 2009, going 15-10 with a 4.67 ERA, and is having a similar season in 2010, as he’s 9-7 with a 4.40 ERA.

He is coming off a good start, though, against the Phillies on Monday, despite a loss, going seven and giving up two runs on six hits. He walked one and struck out six.

He has had some clunkers this season, so the Mets would like to run into the “bad” Derek Lowe to end their three-game losing streak. It’s the first time this season that the Mets have lost three in a row at Citi Field.

One guy the Mets won’t have in the lineup to try and help is Jose Reyes. Perhaps the Mets waited a little bit too long to remove Reyes from the lineup, not doing so until they pulled him yesterday when David Wright noticed him wincing after fielding a grounder.

Reyes is battling a nagging sore right oblique, and will also not participate in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, being replaced by the Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal.

Today would also be a bad day for Reyes to try to bat righty-on-righty, as Lowe is extremely tough against right-handed hitters.

The Mets, though, are also battling through some other player issues. The $66 million man, Jason Bay, is still not producing, grounding into way too many double plays and popping up, so much that he’s starting to hear boos from the Citi Field faithful.

Ike Davis has been in a huge slump, seeing his batting average dip from .272 on June 23 to .254 today.

Coupled with Mike Pelfrey’s struggles and the lineup’s recent inconsistency, the Mets are in danger of heading on a brutal 11-game West Coast trip, far behind the Braves, and losing a grip on a once-promising season.

If there’s ever a must-win game in July, today’s game is it, as the Mets want to ride into the second half feeling good, with Carlos Beltran on the horizon.

Johan Santana vs. Atlanta (May 18)
ND, 7 IP, 2 ER, 5 hits, 2 BB, 4 SO

Derek Lowe vs. New York (May 17)
Loss, 7 IP, 3 ER, 4 hits, 3 BB, 3 SO

2010 season series (New York vs. Atlanta)

April 23: New York 5, Atlanta 2
April 24: New York 3, Atlanta 1
*April 25: New York 1, Atlanta 0

May 17: New York 3, Atlanta 2
May 18: Atlanta 3, New York 2

July 9: Atlanta 4, New York 2
July 10: Atlanta 4, New York 0
Mets lead series 4-3

*Rain-shortened, five-inning game

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