Mets' biggest problem early in season is their strength of schedule

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Scott Rice of the Mets hands the ball Scott Rice of the Mets hands the ball to manager Terry Collins as he leaves a game against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on Thursday, April 3, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004.

A couple of hours before Monday's season opener at Citi Field, we tweeted our prediction that the Mets would go 80-82 in 2014.

After watching every inning of the first three games of the season, here's the revised prediction:

The Mets will go 80-82 in 2014.

Yes, the Mets are 0-3 after Thursday's 8-2 loss to the Nationals. No, the Mets do not look good at all.

Yes, the bullpen has been a disaster and the three-headed first baseman is a bad idea executed poorly.

But the most significant factor this week isn't how badly the Mets have started. It's how good the Washington Nationals have looked.

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Heck, even the spent-half-a-billion Yankees brought an 0-2 record into Thursday night. And that was against Houston, the presumed worst team in baseball. That's a fluke.

Strength of schedule often is an overlooked component in baseball and the Mets are facing a difficult opening stretch. For a team that needs a fast start, beginning with Washington-Cincinnati-at Atlanta is not helpful. That's two 2013 playoff teams and one that should have been.

The following four series aren't cakewalks, either: at Angels, at Diamondbacks, then home for the Braves and Cardinals. The Mets may be 10 games under .500 soon after Easter Sunday.

But the schedule eventually evens out. The Mets will have their share of games against the Phillies and Marlins and Rockies of the world. In fact, those three teams are all the Mets will play in a 15-game span from April 25-May 11.

So April showers could bring May flowers. Or something like that.

Maybe by then the Mets will have given up on Sandy Alderson's 90-win fantasy and figured out a few things about themselves.

It made little sense to start Ike Davis, Josh Satin and Lucas Duda in consecutive games at first base; it was indecisive and unfair to Davis and Duda, each of whom deserves a chance to play against every righthander.

After the game, Terry Collins said he's going to do just that starting Friday night, and a team insider said Duda will receive an extended opportunity to win the job.

This week, the Mets lost three games to a much, much more talented team in the Nationals, who may be the powerhouse this season everyone expected them to be last year.

The Nationals have a seventh-inning guy in Drew Storen who would be the best reliever on the Mets, especially post-Bobby Parnell. They have 19-game winner Jordan Zimmermann as their No. 3 starter and didn't skip a beat Thursday when he had to be scratched with the flu.

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Instead, impressive righthander Tanner Roark overcame a shaky first inning to hold the Mets to two runs in six innings.

When Denard Span lost David Wright's fly ball to center in the sun to set up a two-run first, you thought maybe this was going to be the Mets' day.

They trailed only 3-2 after six, but then the Mets' combustible bullpen got involved and turned the game into a laugher. Or, if you're a Mets fan, a crier.

Combined, Mets relievers have a 10.61 ERA. After eight more strikeouts Thursday, their hitters have fanned 39 times in 28 innings.

"It's three games,'' Collins said. "You've got to forget about it, move ahead and get ready for the next series, and we'll start fresh. I assure you that we're better than we've seen the last three games.''

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It has to get better because it can't get worse.

The Mets eventually will win a game. We guarantee it. But considering their early-season opponents, it may be a while before they win a bunch of them in a row.

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