Pete Alonso, the toast of New York City at the moment, is set to make a triumphant return to his home state of Florida on Monday night.
Alonso, the power-hitting rookie first baseman for the New York Mets, is a Tampa native and will be just a four-hour car ride from home on Monday when he faces the host Miami Marlins.
Alonso has been brilliant, hitting .500 (6-for-12) with three doubles, three RBI and a gaudy 1.321 OPS. He led the Mets to a series win over the Nationals in Washington this past weekend, even though Sunday left a bitter taste for New York, losing 6-5 on a walk-off homer by Trea Turner.
Alonso, who led the minor leagues last season in homers (36) and RBI (119) while showing patience at the plate (.395 on-base percentage), spent the past two winters studying the hitting mechanics of Paul Goldschmidt, who hit three homers for the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.
"I'm a big, strong guy," Alonso told Steve Serby of the New York Post when asked about his mentality at the plate. "Even if there are two strikes, I want to feel dangerous."
The Marlins, who split their season-opening four-game series against the visiting Colorado Rockies, had the worst record (63-98) in the National League last year and are not expected to contend in 2019.
But anything is possible, at this stage at least, and the Marlins have shown a solid, young rotation. The only Marlins starting pitcher who has yet to make his 2019 debut is lefty Caleb Smith, who hasn't pitched in the majors since June 24 but is set to face the Mets on Monday.
Smith, who required left shoulder surgery last year, was leading all National League rookies in strikeouts (88 in 77 1/3 innings) at the time he got hurt.
His overall numbers weren't that impressive however -- 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA.
Miami split Smith's two starts against the Mets last year, losing 8-6 on April 10 and winning 5-1 on May 22. Smith had a 3.09 ERA in those two starts, striking out 15 batters in 11 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and three walks.
With All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto no longer with the Marlins -- he was traded recently to the Philadelphia Phillies -- Smith will be throwing for the first time to Jorge Alfaro, assuming he starts.
"We're trying to get the game plan and follow it," said Alfaro, who called the pitches Sunday in Miami's 3-0 win over Colorado.
New York will counter with its own 27-year-old lefty in Steven Matz, who had a 7.47 ERA this spring. Those are exhibitions, of course, and the Mets prefer to point toward 2018, when Matz -- a native of New York -- had the healthiest season of his career. Making a career-high 30 starts, Matz had a solid 3.97 ERA even if his run support betrayed him (5-11 record).
Matz struck out 8.9 batters per nine innings last season while allowing 7.8 hits. He allowed 28 steals last season -- second most in the majors -- but the Marlins have yet to swipe a base in four games this season, so that may not be an issue.
In addition, Matz has won his past three starts in Miami. In fact, he had a 1.53 ERA in three starts against the Marlins last year.
One batter -- besides Alonso -- to watch on Monday is Marlins outfielder Curtis Granderson, who slugged 76 homers in three years for the Mets (2014-2016).
Now declining at age 38, Granderson hit just 13 homers last year while splitting time between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays. But he homered in his first game for the Marlins this past weekend.
--Field Level Media