By: Stache Staff

PreGame: Miami Marlins (49-60) at New York Mets (53-56)

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Guess Who’s Back. Back Again.

After a long and bumpy road trip filled with peaks and valleys, the Mets are back at home for the first time since July 25th tonight when they host the Miami Marlins in the first game of a three-game set at Citi Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. and the game can be seen on SNY or heard, as always, on WFAN 660AM. Join the conversation on Twitter by following @dailystache or yours truly, @DevOnSports.

The Mets enter tonight’s game in a state of flux, sitting three games below .500 in third place in the NL East, but nearly completely out of the playoff race with two months to play. They’ll face a Marlins team that finds itself in a similar position, despite having spent millions this offseason to rise from mediocrity. Miami gave up on its season at the trade deadline, sending several key players — Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante, Gaby Sanchez and Anibal Sanchez — packing.

The Miami lineup that Mets’ starter Jon Niese will see tonight is vastly different from the one he saw when he last faced the Marlins on May 13 at Marlins Park. In fact, only three of the nine players in that lineup are also in tonight’s lineup. Niese will be opposed by Wade LeBlanc, who makes just his second start as a Marlin. The Mets send out a righty-heavy lineup against LeBlanc that includes Jason Bay and not Ike Davis.

Mets Lineup:

Tejada – Murphy – Wright – Hairston – Bay – Cedeno – Torres – Thole – Niese

Small Sample Stache: Bay is playing against a lefty despite a triple slash of .146/.288/.271 against them this season. Davis is .174/.194/.357 against lefties. Makes sense.

Marlins Lineup:

Solano – Ruggiano – Reyes – Lee – Stanton – Kearns – Green – Buck – LeBlanc

Small Sample Stache:  Jose Reyes enters tonight’s game with a career-best 24-game hitting streak, during which he is hitting .358 and has raised his average from .264 to .288.

Pitching Matchup:
NYM: Jon Niese (8-5, 3.72 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 112 K) – Niese’s up and down season continued in his last start when he allowed just one run on three hits in seven innings. That followed a six-inning start in Arizona in which Niese allowed six earned on nine hits. Those two starts are a microcosm of Niese’s season. The good news is that Niese usually goes deep into starts no matter how he is fairing. He’s thrown seven or more innings in eight of his last 10 starts and has a 3.17 ERA over his last 13.

Niese has faced the Marlins twice already this season and both starts were very solid. On May 13th in Miami he went six innings and allowed no runs on five hits, but gave way to the bullpen when his pitch count ran up. They eventually blew the game. Just three starts before that he went seven against the Marlins at Citi Field, allowing just two runs on four hits but took a no decision in a game the Mets won with two in the ninth off Heath Bell.

MIA: Wade LeBlanc (1-1, 1.35 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 13 K) – LeBlanc makes his second start of the season tonight as he makes the transition from long man to starter following the trade of Anibal Sanchez. In his first start of the year, LeBlanc limited the Braves to one run on five hits in 4.1 innings, but only reached 71 pitches because his arm isn’t quite stretched out yet.

LeBlanc last faced the Mets almost a year ago today when he pitched for the Padres at Citi Field on August 9, 2011. That night he allowed two runs on six hits in six innings, while walking one and striking out five. He took a no-decision after the Mets rallied to win 5-4 with a three-run eighth inning. No Met has more than 10 at-bats against LeBlanc, but in small samples both David Wright (3-5, HR, 2 RBI) and Ronny Cedeno (3-6, 2 2B, HR, 2 RBI) have hit well against him.

Stache Keys to the Game:

  1. Wade Right In – LeBlanc hasn’t yet reached the point where his arm can offer the Marlins a long start, so a patient approach by the Mets could help them get into the Marlins bullpen early. Maybe we’ll even see our good friend Heath Bell tonight.
  2. Which Niese? – Niese is pitching tonight on five days rest, the first time he’s done so since the All-Star break. In nine starts on five days rest Niese is 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA and has allowed opposing hitters just a .223 batting average against him. If he can keep it going tonight, the Mets should be in good shape.
  3. Get Wright Going – Facing a soft-tossing lefty like LeBlanc could be just what the doctor ordered for Wright who is in an 11-for-62 slump since July 20. The Mets need to get David on the Wright track to string together some wins.

This Date in Mets History:
Happy 25th birthday to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who may miss the rest of the season with a plantar fascia tear in his right foot. On this date in the 2000 World Series run, Kurt Abbott blasted an 11th inning home run to beat the Astros 6-5 in Houston.

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