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Will the Mets finally pull ahead of the wounded Marlins this week?

New York has a golden opportunity to reel in Miami during this upcoming four-game set.

San Diego Padres v Miami Marlins Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The Marlins have occupied second place ahead of the Mets in the National League East for way longer than we’ve been comfortable with this year, but starting on Monday, New York has a chance to boat race its fishy rivals and watch them flounder in third place as we enter September.

Underwater puns are the best. Anyway, Miami is in this situation because they just lost two of three games to both San Diego and Kansas City while trying to overcome some injuries that have made a severe dent in their postseason chances. Chief among those is the groin strain suffered by Giancarlo Stanton two weeks ago. The big bopper was not having his best season ever, but his .496 slugging percentage and 25 home runs were nothing to sneeze at.

Marlins offense

Filling in for Stanton is the platoon of future Hall of Fame outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and former Mets clubhouse darling Jeff Francoeur. While Ichiro has become a hero in Miami for his pursuit of 3,000 hits — a milestone he achieved back on August 7 with a triple in Colorado — Francoeur was batting a modest .249/.290/.381 for his hometown Braves before the Marlins acquired him in a three-way deal with Atlanta and Texas. Still, Frenchy has a .778 career OPS against left-handed pitching, so he should be somewhat useful in a part-time role. On the other hand, despite being a left-handed batter, Ichiro has hit lefties better than righties throughout his career. Maybe we should just leave Francoeur on the bench and let Ichiro rack up as many hits as possible. Regardless, we’ll probably see Francoeur start against Steven Matz in the series finale on Thursday.

Besides Stanton, another big bat missing from the Miami lineup is Justin Bour, who remains out of action with a high ankle sprain. He resumed baseball activities this past weekend, but until the left-handed slugger is back in the lineup, we’re going to see some more Xavier Scruggs at first base. After he hit .290/.408/.565 in 93 games at Triple-A New Orleans, the Marlins called up Scruggs in an attempt to get more offense from first base than Chris Johnson was giving them. With Johnson only reaching base 28 percent of the time, that wasn’t a very high bar to clear, but so far the former Cardinals farmhand is doing alright with seven hits and three walks in 26 plate appearances.

Mets offense

Of course, the Mets have been banged on offense up just as much this year. They seemed to be getting healthy at just the right time with Yoenis Cespedes recovering from his quad injury and Neil Walker getting over his back issue. Both players hit home runs on Saturday as the Mets crushed Philadelphia 12-1, but then both were out of the lineup with flare-ups of their respective injuries on Sunday.

To add injury to injury, Asdrubal Cabrera left the matinee after hurting his knee in a collision at first base. The shortstop has been on fire at the plate since returning from an injury to the same knee, so hopefully this second instance turns out to be minor. If not, we could see a lot of Kelly Johnson this week against Miami’s right-handed-heavy rotation.

Probable Pitchers

Date Time Television Marlins Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
August 29, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Jose Fernandez Rafael Montero
August 30, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Tom Koehler Seth Lugo
August 31, 2016 7:10 PM SNY David Phelps Bartolo Colon
September 1, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Jose Urena Steven Matz

Jose Fernandez

Important stats: 148.2 IP, 213 K, 44 BB, 11 HR, 2.91 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 1.12 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (95 mph), curveball (84 mph), changeup (88 mph)

This guy. What else is there to say but, "Wouldn’t it be cool if the Mets’ pitchers bounced back from Tommy John surgery like he does?" Among qualified major league pitchers, Fernandez is the very best with 12.89 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s more than one strikeout better than Robbie Ross and Max Scherzer, who are both tied for second at 11.23. Fernandez doesn’t take it easy on the Mets, either. In three starts (all Miami wins) against our boys this season, he has 26 strikeouts, five walks, and a 1.42 ERA in 19 innings.

Mets opponent: Remember Rafael Montero? He was once supposed to be a future starter for the Mets, but like everything else with this club, that didn’t go according to plan. He’s starting on Monday because the Mets need a quick replacement for Jacob deGrom, who has gotten lit up in his last two starts and requires a week of rest. For Montero, many of his outings at Triple-A Las Vegas this season turned into fireworks shows, as he was demoted in July with a 7.20 ERA in 80 innings. Since taking the mound for Binghamton, however, things have turned around, as Montero has a 1.70 ERA in 47.2 innings at Double-A. He has struggled with walks at both levels, though, and that could prove to be his undoing in this return to the majors.

Tom Koehler

Important stats: 145.0 IP, 115 K, 61 BB, 13 HR, 3.85 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 1.39 WHIP

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

Koehler’s walk rates have always held him back from being a good pitcher instead of the mediocre one he is, but the right-hander out of Stony Brook has improved his control during the past month. During five August starts, he’s walked just seven batters in 31 innings while hurling at least six innings in every outing. If Koehler once again works deep against the Mets, it will be the first time this season that he’s gone at least six frames in each start during a month.

Mets opponent: Considering he was called up in July as an unheralded reliever for the back of the bullpen, Seth Lugo has been a very pleasant surprise since being pressed into starting duty 10 days ago. During his second of two starts, Lugo went five scoreless against St. Louis before being forced out due to a leg cramp. He’s fine now, though, and will look to keep the good times rolling against the Marlins.

David Phelps

Important stats: 78.2 IP, 101 K, 32 BB, 6 HR, 2.52 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 1.12 WHIP

Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (94 mph), two-seam fastball (93 mph), cutter (91 mph), knuckle curve (80 mph)

Like Lugo, David Phelps is a relief pitcher who has been shifted to the rotation due to injuries. The Marlins thought they were fortifying their rotation when they made a trade with San Diego for Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea in July, but the former was recently scratched from a start with a blister while the latter turned out to be damaged goods and was promptly returned to the Padres. Enter Phelps, who has been solid with a 2.22 ERA in five games since making his first start of the season on August 5. Two of those outings, however, have gone fewer than five innings.

Mets opponent: I believe you’re familiar with the work of Bartolo Colon. He’s set to make the start on Wednesday after he helped the Mets cruise to a 9-4 win over Philadelphia on Friday night. The sexy one only allowed a single run through the first seven innings of that game, but he bravely sacrificed his low ERA in an attempt to give New York’s bullpen a break.

Jose Urena

Important stats: 54.0 IP, 39 K, 21 BB, 6 HR, 5.83 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 1.44 WHIP

Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (95 mph), four-seam fastball (95 mph), changeup (89 mph), slider (86 mph)

The Marlins might be just as short on pitching depth as the Mets these days. Urena is another arm they’ve had to move out of the bullpen (and later move out of Triple-A) despite trading for Cashner and Rea just a month ago. So far, things have gone pretty well for the young Dominican despite a short stint in the minors that began when that trade happened and ended when southpaw starter Adam Conley hit the disabled list with finger tendinitis. In six starts this season, Urena has a 4.81 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 11 walks in 33.2 innings.

Mets opponent: After sitting for two weeks with shoulder discomfort following his brilliant performance against San Diego on August 14, Steven Matz should be ready to rock on Thursday in what will be a crucial matchup no matter how the first three games go. Even if the lefty comes up big again, Mets fans have to wonder if he’ll be able to make it to the end of the campaign given that he’s already had to struggle through the bone spur in his elbow.

Bullpens

Although A.J. Ramos and his 32 saves came off the disabled list a week ago, it appears that veteran import Fernando Rodney is still Miami’s closer for now. While Ramos was out with a broken finger, Rodney started a streak of eight straight converted save chances to take hold of the job. Overall, Rodney has been pretty lousy with a 3.95 ERA and 1.54 WHIP since joining Miami, but we know how certain managers love to keep their veterans in key roles.

The Mets’ lack of bullpen depth has been a big problem this year, causing Terry Collins to overuse his most reliable relievers. However, on Saturday and Sunday, both Josh Smoker and Jim Henderson had back-to-back strong performances. Henderson struck out three batters in two-and-one-third perfect frames spread over the two days while Smoker struck out four batters and allowed just one hit in his two innings. It will be interesting to see if Collins gives the pair some more high-leverage action this week.

Prediction: Mets win three of four.

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