What's going on with the Marlins?
Miami has done well to hang onto contention as long as it has, but now it seems that the team is falling out of the National League playoff race. The Marlins have lost three series in a row on a recent road trip to fall to 66-69 and six losses out of the second Wild Card spot.
No matter the club's fate, Giancarlo Stanton is going to be considered a legitimate MVP candidate at season's end. The All-Star right fielder leads the NL in both home runs (33) and RBI (98). He's also first in fWAR thanks to an improvement in defense over 2013. That's should be all great news for the Marlins, but thanks to some recent comments by Stanton and the Miami franchise's history of not retaining its stars, most of the talk regarding Stanton has been about when and where he will be traded.
At just 24 years of age and with the ability to provide ultimate power in a powerless age of baseball, Stanton is as studly as they come. Although the last time Miami spent a ton of money, they traded all their purchases away within months, a big deal for Stanton could give the Marlins one of baseball's best players for years to come.
Who are these guys?
While all the attention has been on Stanton, left fielder Christian Yelich has quietly turned in a wonderful season in just his second year in the majors. Sure, he strikes out a little bit too much to be considered a prototypical leadoff man, but Yelich has a high BABIP to make up for it, and his on-base percentage of .371 is one of the best in the majors among players who hit at the top of the order.
Marcell Ozuna is another guy who strikes out a lot but still manages to make himself valuable to the Marlins. Ozuna doesn't get on base nearly as often as Yelich does (a .314 OBP is "meh" at best), but there's not many guys out there who can play a decent center field while hitting 20 home runs in a season. Ozuna has 19 right now, but he is trusted by manager Mike Redmond enough to support a recent move to the cleanup spot in the order. The change was short-lived, though, and now Casey McGehee and his .074 isolated power is batting fourth again, presumably because he had a lot of RBI in Japan last season.
Who's on the mound?
Monday: Zack Wheeler vs. Henderson Alvarez
The Mets were able to solve Alvarez when they faced him on July 11. They knocked the ground ball specialist around for six runs in just five innings. Alvarez's last two outings have been similarly bad, with nine total runs and four home runs allowed in 12.1 innings. Does this mean that his breakout season is a fluke? Probably not. Alvarez still has a 2.75 ERA for the season and is returning home today, where he's done most of his best work.
Wheeler has also done some great things at Marlins Park in 2014. Back on June 19, the 24-year-old dazzled all in attendance with eight strikeouts in a complete-game shutout. Wheeler threw 111 pitches during that game, but lately he's struggled to get through the seventh innings with that tally. The ERA continues to look good for him, but a 1.31 WHIP is indicative of the issues that Wheeler has had with his control. In July, he walked fewer than three batters in every start, but in August, he's walked three or four in every start.
Tuesday: Jon Niese vs.Brad Penny
Penny has a successful history with the Marlins that includes a 2003 World Series ring, but his second stint with his original club is just as a veteran fill-in. After making two starts in early August, Penny was shifted to the bullpen, but now he's back again to step in for the ineffective Brad Hand. With nine walks and seven strikeouts in 13.1 big league innings this season, Penny doesn't seem likely to provide anything more than replacement-level value as a starting pitcher for the rest of the year.
After a poor stretch through July and August, Niese has thrown three quality starts in his last four outings. Is this a sign that the lefty is back to where he was during the first half of the season? Well, Niese's strikeout rate has been more consistent lately, and Marlins Park has been friendly to him in 2014. In two starts against the Marlins (both on the road) this year, he's allowed just three runs in 13 innings.
Wednesday: Jacob deGrom vs. Tom Koehler
The Stony Brook alum Koehler is one of those guys who always has his turn in the rotation come up when the Mets are in town. The right-hander has already pitched against New York four times this season, and just like last year, Koehler has had a lot of success in those games. The Mets scored four runs in five innings off of him back in April, but since then, Koehler has surrendered just five runs in 21.1 innings to the orange and blue. Although he's typically been an inconsistent pitcher during his career, three straight quality starts could be a sign that Koehler is rounding into form.
Just like we hoped he would, deGrom went out and shut down the Phillies during his last outing, allowing just one unearned run in seven innings. One run is all he's allowed during two starts against Miami this season, so it's not too much to ask for deGrom to return to the dominant ways that have turned him into a miniature sensation in Queens in 2014.
Prediction: Mets win two out of three to finally give Miami's playoff hopes the boot.
What about some highlights?
The last time the Mets saw the Marlins, New York was playing some of its best baseball of the season. It certainly didn't hurt that Daisuke Matsuzaka was looking like the pitcher than the Red Sox once paid a king's ransom just to negotiate with.
Stanton's talents make him a great fit for the annual Home Run Derby. This year, he nearly hit a ball out of Target Field.
Yes, another Star Wars night! This one hasn't happened yet, but I just wanted to point out that Billy the Marlin could probably just use his nose as a lightsaber.
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