The Mets arrived in New York with the look and feel of an unfinished renovation project. Three dreadful games against the Nationals have only proved as much.
In the space of a three-game sweep by the Nationals -- a humiliation capped by Thursday's 8-2 drubbing at Citi Field -- the Mets have placed two players on the disabled list, endured daily bullpen meltdowns and cycled through three first basemen.
"I assure you," manager Terry Collins said Thursday, "we're better than what we've seen the last three days."
Step one in that process simply may involve defining some roles, as they did after Thursday's game, when they committed to giving Lucas Duda an extended audition at first base.
Collins hinted at a decision but declined to say whether Duda had displaced Ike Davis, his primary competitor for the job. But a team insider confirmed that Duda will start Friday against the Reds and will continue in that role as the Mets face a string of righthanders.
"I know we want to see what he can do for an extended period of time," the source said.
First base is only one area in need of rapid improvement. With one series officially in the books, the Mets have made zero progress toward general manager Sandy Alderson's goal of 90 wins, falling to 0-3 after getting outplayed by a Nationals team expected to contend for a championship.
Before the game, outfielder Chris Young (right quad) joined closer Bobby Parnell on the 15-day disabled list, depriving the Mets of yet another important piece. The news didn't get much better once the game started.
Trailing 3-2 entering the seventh, Collins looked to his relievers to hold the line. They delivered another lemon instead.
The Nationals scored four runs against Scott Rice and Jeurys Familia, two of which came on a single by Adam LaRoche. Ryan Zimmerman also knocked in a run with one of his four hits, which included a solo shot off Mets starter Zack Wheeler, who took the loss despite a quality start. He allowed three runs in six innings, with six strikeouts.
"It all starts with me, though," Wheeler said. "I should have pitched better."
Curtis Granderson finished with a pair of doubles and an RBI after beginning his Mets career 0-for-9 with five strikeouts. But it wasn't enough to lift the Mets, who managed only two runs off emergency starter Tanner Roark.
Flu-like symptoms forced the Nationals to scratch Jordan Zimmermann. But Roark scattered six hits in six innings, good enough to earn the win by holding the Mets to nothing after they scored twice in the first.
Wheeler looked sharp at times against the dangerous Nationals, though he ran into trouble in the fifth. He paid the price for walking No. 8 hitter Sandy Leon, who eventually scored on Denard Span's game-tying single.
Two batters later, Jayson Werth's single put the Nationals ahead for good.
The Mets' bullpen buckled again in the eighth, when Carlos Torres walked LaRoche with the bases loaded to force in another run. It was the 12th surrendered by Mets relievers.
"It's three games," Collins said. "You've got to forget about it, move on to the next series and start fresh."