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Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Miami Marlins

The Mets return to Miami to maybe score some runs this time.

Rob Foldy

What's going on with the Marlins?

With both the Braves and Nationals scuffling around the .500 mark, the NL East is wide open. The Mets haven't been able to take advantage of the situation and are lagging behind thanks to an inconsistent offense, the Marlins have turned into a surprise contender despite the loss of Cy Young candidate Jose Fernandez to Tommy John surgery.

Just how have our fishy friends done it? Like we discussed last time the Mets visited Miami, a big part of the Marlins' success is their surprisingly effective offense. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has certainly cooled off since May, but Giancarlo Stanton is still hitting like an MVP contender, and his power his complemented by 21 combined home runs from Marcell Ozuna and Garrett Jones.

The pitching staff is still a work in progress, with trade acquisitions Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez developing into solid pieces and churning out quality starts. Tom Koehler is also doing a good job holding down the fort, but the back end has been a bit of a mess. In fact, veterans Randy Wolf and Kevin Slowey were just designated for assignment this week to make room for top prospect Andrew Heaney and the not-quite-as-exciting-but-still-good Anthony DeSclafani. If these two youngsters can hit the ground running, the Marlins could maintain contender status all season long. It certainly does't seem like they're going to stop hitting anytime soon.

Who are these guys?

The Marlin machine hit a bit of a snag recently when Christian Yelich was forced to the disabled list because of a strained back. That caused the team to reach down to the minors and call up Jake Marisnick, who you might remember as the promising young center fielder who played 40 games for last year's club. An outfield of Stanton, Yelich, and Ozuna allowed Marisnick to start 2014 in Triple-A, where he cut his strikeout rate down to 17 percent from last year's Double-A rate of 23 percent. The downside is that Marisnick hasn't been showing much power or patience this year, but he's up in the majors anyway, and he should at least be a steady defensive asset while he's up.

As a 26-year-old first baseman who is just now getting a taste of the major leagues, Justin Bour doesn't appear on any of the Marlins' top prospect lists, but his strikeout and walk rates in the minor leagues are outstanding. He was taken from the Cubs in this winter's Rule 5 Draft and has 26 strikeouts and 26 walks in 240 plate appearances at Triple-A New Orleans. You can't keep a good man like that down, so the Marlins have made room for the lefty on their bench. He doesn't have the power to compete with a guy like Jones, but Bour should see some playing time in pinch-hitting opportunities. So far, he has five hits combined in his two starts since being called up for the first time earlier this month.

Who's on the mound?

Thursday: Zack Wheeler vs. Andrew Heaney

Considered one of the top lefty pitching prospects in the game, Heaney will be making his major league debut against the Mets just two years after Miami chose him with the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft. He's said to be able to reach 95 mph with his fastball, and he also sports a nasty slider as well as a changeup to deal with righties. In four starts and 23 innings at Triple-A New Orleans, Heaney has done everything you'd want him to do. His 2.74 ERA over that span isn't nearly as impressive as his 27 strikeouts and just two walks. This kid is ready for the show, and he should bring just a tad more buzz to Marlins Park than your typical Wolf outing.

Mets fans shouldn't let their jaws drop too close to the floor upon seeing Heaney's stuff for the first time. After all, it can't be that much better than what Wheeler is capable of dealing when he's on. Unfortunately, the 24-year-old hasn't been at the top of his game lately, and he's showed it with consecutive poor starts against San Francisco and San Diego. Marlins Park hasn't be a very friendly environment for pitchers this season, but Wheeler needs to post a solid six innings tonight in order to get his season back on track.

Friday: Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Henderson Alvarez

After three straight scoreless starts from late May to early June, the Alvarez party came to a screeching halt when he suffered a hip injury against the Cubs on June 8. The Marlins dodged a bullet, though, as the team's de facto ace just needed a couple of days off to get right. He returned on Sunday with a stellar start in a 3-2 win over the Pirates. This is already Alvarez's third start versus the Mets in 2014. Back on April 25 he allowed two runs in six innings, and on May 6 he hurled a complete game shutout. Hopefully the Amazins have figured something out by now.

I was going to say that if the Mets can't figure out Alvarez, they could be in for a long night, but when Alvarez is pitching well, the night goes rather quickly. Matsuzaka, on the other hand, slows things down no matter how well he's pitching. In his last scheduled start against San Diego, Dice-K might have pitched well, but we'll never know because he left after one inning with an upset stomach. He looked healthy in a relief appearance at St. Louis, so hopefully Matsuzaka is ready to give the Mets some innings on Friday.

Saturday: Jacob deGrom vs. Tom Koehler

Earlier this season, we talked about how Koehler's ERA wasn't matching up to his peripheral numbers, even as he was shutting out the Mets for eight innings on May 7. Well, it appears the right-hander out of Stony Brook is coming back down to Earth, as he's allowed at least three runs in five straight starts. Does that mean the Mets should be looking forward to facing Koehler or that Koehler should be looking forward to facing the Mets? This is what makes baseball great, people.

deGrom is probably looking forward to pitching against anybody but the Cardinals nowadays. St. Louis lit him up for six runs in four-and-one-third innings on Monday, and the young righty has now allowed a ridiculous 21 hits in his last two starts after it appeared the BABIP fairy was his friend at the outset of his big league career. Now that that figure has balanced out to .311, deGrom is looking at a 4.39 ERA. He's had some trouble striking batters out since he got 11 in Philadelphia on the last day of May.

Sunday: Jon Niese vs. Anthony DeSclafani

DeSclafani, out of Freehold, New Jersey, is yet another player from that blockbuster Marlins/Blue Jays trade that looks like he can help out the Fish in a big way. He's not as highly rated a prospect as Heaney, but what's really cool about DeSclafani is that his strikeout rate has increased while he's progressed through the minor leagues. The walks have gone up too, but this rookie is being very stingy with the free passes early on in his major league career, which now consists of 17.2 innings (three starts), nine strikeouts, and two walks. The 5.60 ERA is bound to go down if he keeps up those peripheral numbers.

Niese gave up five runs in his last start against the Cardinals, but thanks to defensive miscues, only three of them are earned. That made for Niese's 18th consecutive start with three earned runs or fewer allowed, which is pretty amazing. Still, it would be nice if the lefty could get his strikeout rate back to 19 percent, where it was from 2010 through 2012. Right now it's at 17 percent, which is fine as long as he's able to keep his BABIP in check.

Prediction: The Mets take advantage of some young pitching and get a split.

What about some GIFs?

The last time the Mets played the Marlins, they lost 1-0 thanks to an Ozuna walk-off sac fly. The Amazins had a chance to throw out Giancarlo Stanton at the plate, but then this happened.

New York has only scored three runs in three games at Marlins Park this season. Bartolo Colon wasn't the only one looking silly at the plate.

Just about all of the Mets' offense in that series came in the first inning of the first game, with both Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson hit upper deck bombs.