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Can the Mets get their groove back in Miami?

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The Marlins are suddenly right on New York's tail.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Mets met the Marlins, New York's offense was having trouble putting runs together and scored just five times while losing two out of three games. However, after the most recent meeting on April 13, the Mets started hitting a bunch of home runs and went on to finish the month with 12 wins in 14 games. We can only hope the Marlins spark something in the Mets this time around, because once again, Terry Collins's squad is having trouble barreling up opposing pitching.

The team's slump was very apparent on Wednesday, when our boys reached base 20 times in 13 innings against the White Sox, but pushed only one run across thanks to five double plays turned against them. That allowed for Chicago relief pitcher Matt Albers to become a more clutch version of Bartolo Colon. The plus-size hurler stunned the Citi Field crowd when he doubled to lead off the 13th before coming around to score the winning run on a Jose Abreu sac fly.

The offensive woes might not be going away so easily this time, because with David Wright headed to the disabled list, the lineup isn't as deep as it once was. Guys at the bottom of the order like Ty Kelly, Wilmer Flores, and Kevin Plawecki (not to mention the struggling Michael Conforto) are going to need to step up if the Mets hope to hold off the Marlins for second place in the National League East. After taking three of four games versus Pittsburgh, Miami trails New York by two games in the loss column.

The Fish are one of two teams in the division to score more runs than the Mets, and Giancarlo Stanton hasn't even looked like his dominant self yet. The hulking right fielder's increased strikeout rate and below average BABIP have reduced his on-base percentage to .332, although that may start to rise now that he's taken a week off to rest soreness in his right side. Although he finished April with eight home runs, Stanton hit just four in all of May.

Even with Stanton not at full strength, the play of Miami's outfield hasn't suffered, because everyone else is just crushing the ball. Marcell Ozuna has bounced back from last year's miserable campaign to hit .327/.380/.568 with 10 home runs while playing solid defense in center field. That OBP is a little inflated by Ozuna's .382 BABIP, but the way he hits for power as a center fielder makes him one of the more valuable players in the senior circuit this year.

Meanwhile, Christian Yelich has also shown an increase in power that Miami fans have waited so long for. His .509 slugging percentage combined with excellent contact and walk rates make him look like the ideal top-of-the-order hitter that we imagined during his prospect days.

One more young Marlins batter who has shown improvement is second baseman Derek Dietrich. He's cut his strikeout rate by four percent since last year and is hitting .311/.403/496 while splitting time at second base with Miguel Rojas. Manager Don Mattingly doesn't let Dietrich face lefties too often, but he should be turned loose against New York's right-handed rotation this weekend. However, he is considered day-to-day right now after being hit on the wrist by a fastball on Wednesday.

With Stanton healthy again and the other two outfielders playing so well, Mattingly is going to have trouble getting Ichiro Suzuki into the lineup, and that's bad for baseball. Not only is Ichiro one of the most entertaining players to ever take the field, but he's closing in on some achievements that didn't seem possible only a year ago. With 30 hits so far this season and a .323 batting average, the 42-year-old needs just 35 more hits to tally 3,000 for his major league career. If you throw in the hits he got in Japan as a member of the Orix Blue Wave, Ichiro is only 13 away from equaling Pete Rose's total of 4,256 career hits.

Pitching probables

Date Time Television Mets Probable Starter Marlins Probable Starter
June 3, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Noah Syndergaard Tom Koehler
June 4, 2016 4:10 PM SNY Bartolo Colon Justin Nicolino
June 5, 2016 1:10 PM SNY Matt Harvey Jose Fernandez

Tom Koehler

Important stats: 54.0 IP, 39 K, 35 BB, 4.50 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 1.65 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (92 mph), knuckle curveball (79 mph), slider (86 mph)

Koehler has never been a big control guy, but he's having even more trouble with walks than usual this year with almost six free passes per nine innings and five each in his last four starts. However, in those four games, Koehler has allowed a total of just 10 runs, so whatever he's been doing has been mildly effective. Perhaps the Mets could be in for another frustrating day of walking a bunch and not scoring, but hopefully they'll take advantage of Koehler's recklessness and punish him with a home run or two. The right-hander has certainly been asking for it with no long balls allowed since May 1.

Mets opponent: Following his cameo relief appearance on Tuesday and his ejection-shorted start on Saturday, Syndergaard has now gone 21.1 innings since he last allowed an earned run. That streak will probably come to an end on Friday night on the road against tough left-handed bats like Yelich and Dietrich, but on the other hand, Syndergaard could continue being incredible.

Justin Nicolino

Important stats: 40.0 IP, 16 K, 12 BB, 4.50 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 1.33 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (89 mph), changeup (83 mph), cutter (86 mph), curveball (76 mph)

Nicolino wasn't a member of the big league Marlins the last time they played the Mets. Rather, he was called up in late April to take the rotation spot of a struggling Jarred Cosart. The 24-year-old doesn't strike many batters out and he appears to be a classic soft-tossing lefty that relies more on deception and control than pure stuff to get batters out. It hasn't worked out so well in 2016, as Nicolino has allowed either three or four runs in each of his six starts in May while failing to pitch past the sixth inning. In his only outing against the Mets last September, he allowed three runs in six innings with two strikeouts and one walk.

Mets opponent: With Bartolo Colon on the mound opposite Nicolino, this could turn into the rare major league game that features a lot of balls put into play. The names of the starters won't look like they belong on a marquee, but major league officials may be watching closely, as they aim for a product that has more action and less waiting around. It's too bad that Colon is on his way out of the league, then, but he's not quite there yet. After back-to-back poor outings against the Dodgers and Washington, he's recovered with strong performances against those same two opponents. Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Jose Fernandez

Important stats: 67.2 IP, 96 K, 25 BB, 2.53 ERA, 2.25 FIP, 1.11 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (95 mph), slider (84 mph), changeup (87 mph)

Fernandez looked solid in his three-month return from Tommy John surgery in the second half of the 2015 season, but he got off to a slow start this year with a 4.08 ERA in April. That didn't last long, as the right-hander obliterated opponents during the month of May with 56 strikeouts and six runs allowed in five outings, each of which saw his team emerge victorious. Ever better, after struggling a little with walks during his first eight starts of the season, Fernandez has walked two batters total in his last three games. He's quickly cementing himself as one of the top hurlers in the game.

Mets opponent: One guy we thought was at least on par with Fernandez heading into the year was Matt Harvey, but his campaign hasn't gone as planned. However, a dominant outing versus the White Sox on Monday gives us hope that the spotlight-loving phenom can return to being the excellent pitcher he once was. What better way to further excite the fan base than to outduel Fernandez in an epic pitching battle? If that were to happen, this whole run-scoring issue wouldn't seem like such a big deal.

Bullpens

It's safe to say that the Marlins aren't missing their old closer Steve Cishek too much. Although the former Miami farmhand has pitched well for St. Louis and Seattle since being traded from his original organization last summer, new closer A.J. Ramos has stepped in and saved 17 games already despite walking 16 batters in 23 innings. It certainly doesn't hurt that Ramos is striking out 11 batters per nine innings and stranding 83 percent of runners.

Meanwhile, former starter and current set-up man David Phelps has been even more effective with an even higher strikeout rate than Ramos even though he only punched out six per nine as a swingman last season. With a 1.66 FIP in 30.2 innings out of the bullpen, Phelps may have found himself a whole new career path as a reliever. The Miami bullpen should be further bolstered with the return of Mike Dunn, who missed the first two months of the season with a forearm strain, but is ready to resume his long-held role as the team's left-handed specialist.

Speaking of left-handed specialists, it might be time for the Mets to shift some of Antonio Bastardo's workload onto Jerry Blevins's plate. Although Bastardo has performed pretty well in the high-leverage situations he's been dealt, he has also allowed seven runs in 11 innings during May. With 14 walks and a 1.50 WHIP in 22 innings this year (including eight walks in May alone), he's someone who could be a liability in close games. Meanwhile, Blevins went all of last month without allowing a run and now sports a 0.98 WHIP for the season. He might not be as versatile as Bastardo, but Blevins should see his workload increase as the club's dominant left-handed reliever.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

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