Five For Five: A Mets/Marlins Series Preview With Michael Jong of Fishstripes

Oh hai, Home Run Sculpture!

We're starting a brand new pre-series feature here today, which I'm calling Five For Five. I'll be soliciting five questions from bloggers who cover the Mets' next opponent so that we all can get a better handle on the upcoming series. With the Mets and Marlins beginning a three-game set at Citi Field tonight, I asked Michael Jong, the manager of SB Nation's Marlins blog Fishstripes, to be our first guest. He graciously took the time to answer a few questions.

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SS: The return of Jose Reyes to the place where he basically grew up in front of our eyes is a huge story for Mets fans at the outset of this series. Obviously, we’re still well within small sample size range on April 24, but Jose has gotten off to a bit of a slow start offensively. Having watched him play early on, how has he looked compared to previous years, and what has contributed to his slow start?

MJ: I do not see much of significant difference between how he played before and how he has been playing now. A few of his balls in play have been hit pretty hard right at people, so it is not surprising that, right now, his numbers are down. All of his peripherals are pretty much well in-line with his career marks, so I suspect he just will not hit .259 on balls in play going forward, and everything will be fine.

SS: Ace pitcher Josh Johnson has struggled to the tune of a 5.94 ERA in his first three outings. More alarmingly, he’s allowed 28 hits in just 16.2 innings and has seen his strikeout rate plummet to a career low 10.4% after sitting in the low-to-mid twenties the last four years. What has caused Johnson to be so hittable early on, and are there any extra worries about his health, considering he missed most of last year with a shoulder injury?

MJ: Johnson says he is healthy, and there is no word of concern from the organization, but the signs are a little concerning. His velocity is down about one mph from his usual 94 mph comfort zone, and his complete lack of whiffs and strikeouts is alarming. As of right now, we may still be able to chalk it up to being rusty on account of missing ten months with injury, but his health and performance are so crucial to the Marlins' playoff chances that the team has to be watching carefully, and so are the fans.

SS: The outfielder formerly known as Mike Stanton is still looking for his first home run of the season. Are Marlins Park’s cavernous, lime green fences keeping an inordinate number of Giancarlo fly balls in the yard or is he still struggling to overcome the knee injury he suffered in spring training? Or is there something (or nothing) else at play here?

MJ: There is probably nothing much to Stanton's early season struggles. The stadium may have stolen one or two home runs from him, converting them into long fly ball outs instead, but nothing alarming on these fronts. He has not looked great at the plate thus far, but he started slow last season as well and the injury kept him from warming up in Spring Training, so it likely will take a just a little more time for him to get into "regular season form," as they say.

SS: Over the first two-plus weeks, what or who has been the biggest disappointment so far? Who’s off to a hot start? Any early surprises or promising performances you weren’t expecting? Any change in confidence level or season expectations between yourself and the fans?

MJ: The biggest disappointment thus far has to be Josh Johnson, as his performance and bounce back is so closely tied to the team's success. The hottest start has to be Omar Infante's, as he has hit four home runs in just a few games before suffering a groin injury. However, none of these performances or surprises have changed my preseason outlook for the team; it is simply too early to get riled up about the good or the bad.

SS: What are your early thoughts on the team’s new stadium, the uniforms and (most importantly) the home run sculpture and have you seen it go off in person?

MJ: I have been to the stadium and written a review of it here. It is absolutely gorgeous. The stadium is excellent, the local food adds the right amount of Miami flavor to the park's experience, the home run structure is hilariously tacky but beginning to grow on folks, and I have approved of the (non-full orange) uniforms since they were unveiled. All in all, I think the changes to the team's culture have been quite positive despite the offseason's worth of bashing, ranting, and raving. It is exciting to be a Marlins fan once more.

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Thanks again to Michael Jong of Fishstripes! The next Five For Five will be on Friday, prior to the start of the Mets/Rockies series.

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