Nationals-Mets Preview

The Associated Press

The New York Mets still have 159 games to play, but there's a feeling of optimism surrounding the club.

The Washington Nationals are also brimming with confidence after an impressive opening series.

The undefeated Mets try to build on their best start in five years Monday night in the opener of a three-game set with the Nationals at Citi Field.

After finishing with losing records each of the last three seasons, New York opened 2012 by sweeping a three-game set from Atlanta.

"We're going to surprise some people this year,'' said Jonathon Niese, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Sunday's 7-5 victory.

Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy each drove in two runs Sunday for the Mets, who are batting .320 and are 3-0 for the first time since opening with four wins in 2007.

"We're excited - 3-0, man," said Murphy, who is batting .385 with three doubles. "You can't draw it up any better than that."

While New York never trailed in its opening series, Washington (2-1) has nearly perfected the comeback.

After rallying late to beat the Chicago Cubs in the first two games at Wrigley Field, the Nationals pulled within 4-3 in the ninth inning Sunday on Adam LaRoche's two-run homer, but couldn't quite complete the three-game sweep.

"We were all in the dugout on the edge, waiting for the next guy to get up,'' said Ian Desmond, who is 5 for 13. "We fell a little short, but we won the series, and now on to New York.''

The Nationals, who are batting .202, will face a Mets pitching staff that has a 1.67 ERA, but maintaining that impressive ERA could be difficult with Mike Pelfrey scheduled to take the ball.

After going 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA in 2010, Pelfrey regressed in 2011, finishing 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA. He surrendered 21 homers and his 4.9 strikeouts-per-nine innings ranked second-worst in the NL.

Pelfrey did little in the spring to show that he's over this funk. In six Grapefruit League games, the right-hander allowed 23 runs and 33 hits - including five homers - in 26 innings.

Despite his problems a year ago, Pelfrey had some success against the Nationals, going 0-1 with a 2.31 ERA in two starts. He has a 2.45 ERA in four outings versus Washington at Citi Field since 2010.

LaRoche, who is 5 for 12 with a pair of two-run homers, has given Pelfrey problems, going 7 for 11 with two doubles.

The Nationals counter with Edwin Jackson, who signed as a free agent in the offseason and is set to pitch for his sixth team since 2008. Pitching for the White Sox and St. Louis last season, the right-hander went 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 32 games.

He played a big role in the Cardinals' playoff push, allowing two runs or fewer in five of his last six starts. The only outing in that span that he struggled, however, came in his only career appearance against the Mets. He yielded five runs and nine hits in five innings versus New York on Sept. 20.

Jackson wasn't particularly sharp this spring, recording a 6.51 ERA in 27 2-3 innings over seven starts. He gave up 33 hits and 11 walks while striking out 16.

The Mets were 8-10 against the Nationals last season and dropped six of nine at Citi Field.

Jason Bay hit .333 with a homer, four doubles and five RBIs against Washington last year, while David Wright, who is 6 for 9 this season, hit .254 and drove in seven.

What to Read Next