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National League Preview from The Sports Network



Monday, March 31st (All times Eastern)

Washington Nationals (0-0) at New York Mets (0-0), 1:10 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: Washington - Stephen Strasburg (0-0, 0.00) NY Mets - Dillon Gee (0-0, 0.00)

(SportsNetwork.com) - For nearly two months down the stretch of the 2013 season no team had a better record than the Washington Nationals.

Thanks to a slow start, though, it wasn't enough to get the Nationals back into the playoffs.

Washington will try to get off to a better start on Monday when it kicks off its season with the first of three games against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Following a long-awaited NL East title in 2012, the Nationals were certainly a trendy pick last season for a deep postseason run. And who could blame those banking on a club that featured talents like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman?

Washington even opened up the season with a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins, but offensive struggles and inconsistency had the Nats six games under .500 on Aug. 7.

The Nationals finally went on a run, going 32-16 from that point on, but still finished 10 games out of first place in the division and four back of a wild card spot.

Washington will return essentially the same group from last season with one major upgrade to its rotation after acquiring right-hander Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers.

Fister, though, will begin the season on the disabled list due to a right lat strain.

While the changes to the roster may have been minimal, Washington does have a new skipper in place after hiring Matt Williams to replace retired manager Davey Johnson.

Strasburg will be on the hill for the Nats on Monday, as he tries to put a frustrating 2013 behind him. The right-hander went 8-9 and pitched to a 3.00 ERA a year ago, but was often a victim of poor run support, as Washington scored three runs or fewer in 19 of his starts.

This will be his third straight Opening Day appearance.

"I hope my career isn't just reflected on how many Opening Day starts I have," Strasburg said. "There are a lot of guys, even in this rotation, who deserve it. I'm just the first one out. I'd definitely want to focus on making starts in the playoffs."

New York, meanwhile, will counter with right Dillon Gee, who pitched to a 2.74 ERA in the second half last season. Gee was 12-11 overall on the season with four of those wins coming against Washington.

The Mets suffered through their fifth straight losing season a year ago, but have some optimism heading into this season thanks to a terrific young crop of pitchers.

With young hurlers like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard in place, general manager Sandy Alderson opened the Mets' wallet this winter and committed $15 million a year for four years to outfielder Curtis Granderson and $20 million over two years to pitcher Bartolo Colon.

Granderson, who had consecutive 40-plus home run seasons before an injury plagued 2013, gives the Mets' outfield some legit power numbers and he joins the captain and the face of the franchise David Wright as the leaders of the clubhouse. Wright and Granderson are expected to lead this young core into the future.

The Colon deal was needed when the team lost Harvey to Tommy John surgery at the end of last season. The Mets will need an immediate impact pitcher to replace Harvey who went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA, while striking out 191 in 178 1/3 innings in 26 starts last season. Colon, who posted an 18-6 mark with a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts last season with Oakland, should provide that.

"If our players perform like we know they can, we'll be fine. If we get that special season from someone, we'll be better than fine," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Washington won 12 of its 19 meetings with the Mets last season.

03/31 10:22:56 ET

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