What's going on with the Marlins?
Even with ace pitcher Jose Fernandez out for the season with Tommy John surgery, the spunky Marlins find themselves on the edge of the playoff race in the National League East. At 44-47, Miami is six games out of the division lead, and it would be in even better position had the Mets not taken three of four games the last time the two clubs met. That was from June 19 to June 22, and since then the Fish have struggled along at 7-9 despite playing nine of 16 games against the Phillies and Diamondbacks.
That last Mets vs. Marlins series featured the big league debut of Andrew Heaney and another start by young right-hander Anthony DeSclafani. Star prospect Heaney looked as good as good as advertised against the Amazins, but in his next three starts he allowed 14 runs in 14.2 innings and was quickly sent back down to Triple-A New Orleans for more seasoning.
DeSclafani, a native of Freehold, New Jersey, also performed well in his major league debut. That came on May 14 against the Dodgers, but the Mets scored seven runs on him in fewer than four innings in late June, which contributed to DeSclafani's own demotion to the minor leagues. The left-handed Brad Hand hasn't been terrible has a fill-in starter, but Miami is still looking for a consistent presence to eat some innings at the back of the rotation.
Who are these guys?
While the Marlins search for way to plug the pitching staff's holes, the offense continues to be surprisingly potent. Giancarlo Stanton is an All-Star starter after hitting like an MVP candidate during the first half of the season, and Casey McGehee was eligible to earn a trip to Minnesota via the Final Vote despite hitting just one home run all season. It's very likely that by the time you read this, McGehee will have been beaten out by Anthony Rizzo or longtime Twin Justin Morneau, but the Miami third baseman will always have the last laugh with such an amazing Twitter handle.
Another Marlin who is hitting the ball with authority this season is Marcell Ozuna. It turns out the second-year player can do some things at the plate when he's not throwing out Mets baserunners from the outfield. The 23-year-old could stand to get his strikeout rate under control, but as Fish Stripes explains, boosts in Ozuna's walk rate and power have turned him into a solid all-around player in 2014. He's currently riding a 15-game hit streak, and Ozuna just won a game for the Fish on Tuesday when he hit a two-run home run in the top of the ninth in a 2-1 victory.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Henderson Alvarez vs. Zack Wheeler
Really, Alvarez again? The 24-year-old right-hander has been really good overall in this, his breakout season, but he's been even better against the Mets. In three starts against New York, Alvarez has allowed two runs in 21.1 innings while posting 16 strikeouts and two walks. Really the only bad thing you can say about the guy is that he doesn't strike out too many batters, but his walk and ground ball rates are more than dominant enough to make up for it. Alvarez hasn't allowed more than two runs in an outing since May 16.
If Wheeler can pitch like he did the last time he faced Miami, the Mets might just find a way to beat Alvarez. Back on June 19, Wheeler shutout the Fish with just three hits and one walk allowed in what was the most dominant start of the youngster's career. Since then, Wheeler was chased from the game early against Oakland, but recovered to allow only two total runs in his most recent two starts. However, a combined seven walks and eight strikeouts in that pair of games indicates that his command isn't totally where it should be.
Saturday: Tom Koehler vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Like Alvarez, Koehler is preparing for his fourth start of the season against the Mets. Although the Amazins were able to hit up the Bronx native for four runs in five innings back in April, his most latest two starts have frustrated the Queens faithful. After shutting out the Mets for eight innings on May 7, Koehler matched a season high with eight strikeouts in his June 21 outing while allowing just two runs in seven innings. The 28-year-old has been hot and cold this year, but the Marlins are probably happy to stick with him considering the issues they've had with the rotation.
Of course, the Marlins aren't the only team that is sticking with an inconsistent hurler because of injuries to the pitching staff. Lots of teams are doing that, including the Mets! Matsuzaka was coming off of two dreadful starts when he took the hill against the Braves on Monday. Who would have known he was going to dominate for seven innings and lead the Mets to victory? The veteran right-hander is still full of surprises, and the Amazins will hope for more pleasant ones as they wait out Jon Niese's hopefully minor injury.
Sunday: Brad Hand vs. Jacob deGrom
Considering the Mets' history against the first two Miami starters of the weekend, Hand is New York's best shot at victory this weekend. Sure, he has pitched three scoreless innings against the team this season, but those were all as a reliever. As a starter, Hand had a couple of poor starts against Washington in April before being forced back into the rotation due to Koehler's recent paternity leave and Heaney's demotion. During two July starts, Hand gave up three runs in five innings against Philadelphia and shutout the D-backs for 6.1 frames. Those aren't bad figures for him, but Hand's 19 walks in 35.1 innings this season tell a different story. On the other hand (not intended), the lefty's control issues may have been caused by an ankle injury that he went on the DL for in late May.
Holy smokes, deGrom was amazing on Tuesday night. The 11 strikeouts he hurled with zero walks in seven innings show that the former shortstop still has a high ceiling. Scouting expert Keith Law is normally stingy with praise, but even he was impressed with what deGrom has been able to do lately. It's still unclear what the right-hander's future role with the Mets will be, but he's trending as high as ever right now, and it will be exciting to see if the good times can continue to roll into the All-Star break.
What about some video highlights?
Yes, Ozuna really did make that throw to nail Kirk Nieuwenhuis at the plate. The worst is when Gary says, "and that'll get the run in," right before he makes the catch.
The man can also get it done at the dish, as evidenced by this game-winning blast against the Diamondbacks.
Watch as this routine foul pop-up turns into instant comedy when a fan in the front row completely loses his mind.