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New York Mets try to catch some Fish for Independence Day barbecue

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Happy Fourth of July!

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Thought to be also-rans at the outset of the 2016 season, the Marlins have kept pace with the Mets in the National League Wild Card race thanks to some outstanding offense from their outfield and a dominant campaign by right-handed stud Jose Fernandez .The Mets have started to pull away from their fishy frenemies a little bit thanks to an incredible four-game sweep of the Cubs, but Miami is still close behind in the rear-view mirror thanks to their own recent success against Chicago.

But let's talk more about what the Mets just did. They limped into that series against the best team in the senior circuit and not only did they win four out of four games, but absolutely wiped the floor with the Cubs in the series finale by ripping off 22 base hits on the way to a 14-run performance.

The big difference in that series had to be New York's hitting with runners in scoring position, something that has been a weakness for the club all season long. We all knew that couldn't continue all year, right? Maybe this recent success was an aberration, but it sure seems like the Mets "figured out" how to get things done against a solid Chicago pitching staff this weekend.

On Friday night, Brandon Nimmo broke the game open by hitting a home run not with the bases empty, as we are so used to seeing from this team, but with runners on second and third. Yes, it was a home run, but that counts as a hit with runners in scoring position, believe it or not!

Home runs aren't as gritty as clutch singles, though, so the next night Travis d'Arnaud came through with something that Mets fans will hopefully get used to as we enter the literal second half of the season: a two-out bloop single that scored the two runs that New York needed to win the game. So much better than a lame old home run!

The craziness only continued on Sunday afternoon, as the Mets cranked out five hits with runners in scoring position during the second inning to send Jon Lester to the bench and put the game out of reach early. The star of the offensive show was Wilmer Flores, who had one of the best games in Mets history with six hits and two home runs. I guess this means we'll be putting that Jose Reyes reunion on hold for now? On the other hand, it's kind of disappointing that Flores is still only hitting .255/.317/.403 for the season after his incredible day, but it will still be fun to see if the beloved infielder can keep the good times rolling.

Just like how the Mets were lifted by surprising performances from Flores and Nimmo over the past few days, the Marlins have hung in the postseason race thanks to players like Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto, and Derek Dietrich exceeding expectations while Giancarlo Stanton and his 34-percent strikeout rate struggle to put the ball into play. Ozuna deserves a lot of credit for bouncing back from last year's disappointing campaign in a big way, and Realmuto has quietly become one of the best offensive catchers in the league by hitting .314/.344/.432 with five home runs and six stolen bases (he had one of each on Sunday night in North Carolina).

Meanwhile, Dietrich has taken advantage of the suspension of Dee Gordon to give Miami an alternative offensive weapon at second base. He may not be on the same home run pace as last year, when he had an isolated power of .200 in 90 games, but Dietrich is striking out less and playing better defense to become a consistent performer and earn more at-bats against left-handers.

The solid play of Dietrich is one reason why trade rumors are swirling around third baseman Martin Prado .Although the veteran Mets rival is having a classic Prado season by hitting .316/.361/.401 out of the two hole, he could be expendable once Gordon returns to the lineup. The idea is that with Gordon back at second base, Dietrich can shift over to third and relegate Prado to the bench. However, if Miami keeps winning, the front office isn't going to be trading away anyone that can help the team continue its postseason push.

Probable pitchers

Date Time Television Marlins Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
July 4, 2016 4:10 PM SNY Tom Koehler Matt Harvey
July 5, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Wei-Yin Chen Steven Matz
July 6, 2016 1:10 PM SNY Justin Nicolino Jacob deGrom
Tom Koehler

Important stats: 87.0 IP, 73 K, 47 BB, 6 HR, 4.45 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 1.54 WHIP

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

Koehler has been all over the place lately. During his last start against the Mets on June 3, he snapped a streak of four straight outings with exactly five walks by only giving up one free pass along with three runs in six innings. That performance led to two more starts in which the right-hander only walked a single batter in six innings, but then he went and walked a season-high six batters in a home game against Colorado. What was strange about that one is that Koehler held the Rockies to zero runs in six innings despite his control struggles, but his two most recent outings have featured a total of nine runs scored in just nine innings. We don't know which version of Koehler will show up at Citi Field on Monday afternoon, but we do know that it usually pays to be patient with him.

Mets opponent: It's tough to judge Matt Harvey's work in his last start, which was cut short by rain after just three-and-two-thirds innings. The star right-hander allowed only one run during his time on the mound, but he also walked three batters, and the damage could have been worse if Jerry Blevins hadn't stranded Harvey's baserunners once the rain subsided. Overall, June was encouraging for Harvey, as he pitched at least six frames in each of his four starts that weather didn't interfere with and finished the month with a 2.83 ERA in 28.2 innings.

Wei-Yin Chen

Important stats: 91.2 IP, 74 K, 21 BB, 16 HR, 5.11 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 1.32 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (90 mph), slider (84 mph), two-seam fastball (90 mph), changeup (83 mph), curveball (75 mph)

Home runs were always an issue for Chen when he pitched at Camden Yards for the Orioles, but it's kind of surprising that he's on pace to give up a career high 32 long balls now that he's working in the notoriously spacious Marlins Park. Other than that, Chen has been the same guy he's always been with a modest strikeout rate and good control. June was particularly tough, as he was lit up for a 6.47 ERA in six starts, but two starts ago the lefty pitched a great game against the Cubs with two runs allowed, seven strikeouts, and zero walks in seven innings.

Mets opponent: Fans are not wrong to be nervous about Steven Matz pitching with bone spurs in his left elbow, especially after a report that he was leaning towards surgery before meeting with the Mets' front office. However, his most recent outing against the Cubs went well enough with six strikeouts, three walks, and three runs allowed on a pair of home runs. With Matz having to adjust his approach to accommodate for his injury, it's unclear if the Long Island native can get back to being the dominant pitcher he was in May, but his raw talent should be good enough to keep New York afloat at least until Zack Wheeler is ready to rejoin the rotation.

Justin Nicolino

Important stats: 60.2 IP, 28 K, 15 BB, 6 HR, 5.34 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 1.55 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (89 mph), changeup (83 mph), cutter (86 mph), curveball (77 mph)

We know these Fish can hit a little bit, but it's still kind of surprising to see them in the postseason hunt when the back of their rotation has struggled so much. Nicolino is another guy who Miami might look to upgrade via trade, as he doesn't miss nearly enough bats to be considered a solid big league starter. The young lefty was pretty decent against the Mets on June 4 with two runs allowed in five-and-one-thirds innings, but since then he has given up a total of 14 runs in 15.1 frames spread over three starts. The one thing Nicolino does well is keep the ball in the yard, but if the Mets can keep hitting with runners in scoring position the way they did against the Cubs, they won't need to go yard to give Nicolino trouble.

Mets opponent: Jacob deGrom got his first winning decision since April when the Mets defeated the Cubs 10-2 on Friday, but who cares about pitcher wins? deGrom has been awesome no matter what decision he gets saddled with. On that rainy night at Citi Field he struck out seven batters and walked just one in five innings while allowing one run. Those numbers could have been even more impressive if the weather hadn't caused a delay and forced deGrom out of the game.

Bullpens

In case you didn't think the Marlins were in buy mode, they traded for Padres closer Fernando Rodney on the last day of June. Even though the veteran reliever allowed just two runs in 30.2 innings while collecting 17 saves with San Diego, he's going to function as a set-up man for A.J. Ramos for now. I suppose that makes Rodney a lot more humble than Jonathan Papelbon, who you'll remember was thrust into the closer's role when he was acquired by Washington last year even though the incumbent Drew Storen was doing a fine job. Maybe Rodney's demotion won't last long, though, as Ramos had trouble putting away the Braves on Sunday and has now allowed three runs in his last two outings.

The first two major league innings of Seth Lugo's career went pretty well, as he refused to give up a run in two mop-up innings on Friday night, but he's back in Las Vegas now after Juan Lagares came off the disabled list. Instead, the star reliever of the weekend has been Addison Reed, who got a huge strikeout to end the seventh inning on Saturday night before striking out the side in the eighth to help ensure the Mets held onto a 4-3 lead.

Prediction: Mets sweep again!

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