Two teams with statements to make, along with growth to show, will test each other when the second half begins with the New York Mets visiting the Miami Marlins on Friday night.
The Mets have been largely a disappointment under second-year manager Mickey Callaway, whose job status seems tenuous at best. Rumors circulated that he could be fired after the Mets were swept on their last visit to Miami in May.
Spared a dismissal thus far, Callaway's best chance of staying on board is to somehow get the club into playoff contention.
"I feel like we can make a run at this thing," Callaway said during the break. "We can sneak into that wild card (race), sneak back in this division. ... Anything can happen in baseball."
At 40-50, though, becoming sellers at the trade deadline seems far more likely. And reports already have surfaced this week that right-hander Noah Syndergaard is available in a trade if a team is willing to offer an exorbitant return.
One player not going anywhere is rookie Pete Alonso, who hit 30 first-half home runs before winning the Home Run Derby during All-Star Game festivities.
Alonso is just 11 homers short of the Mets' single-season record and is 22 behind the MLB rookie record set by Aaron Judge in 2017.
The Marlins know all about youth as they proceed with a rebuild, and while they don't have anybody on offense as dynamic as Alonso, they are showing growth, especially with their pitching staff. Miami starters have a combined 4.28 ERA, seventh best in the National League and ahead of respected staffs like the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers.
Hard-throwing right-hander Sandy Alcantara put his abilities on display in the All-Star Game, throwing a scoreless inning on 10 pitches. His second-half debut is not expected until Sunday, as the Marlins will send left-hander Caleb Smith (4-4, 3.50 ERA) to the mound Friday. Smith is 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA in three career starts against the Mets
The Marlins closed out the first half with a 4-3 loss against the Atlanta Braves when a late rally fell just short.
"Pretty indicative, I think, of our first half," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of the team's 33-55 play. "The guys have shown they're not going to quit playing. Even the last day before the break, when people are trying to get out, guys kept playing. I'm really proud of the effort."
The Marlins' offense, which remains a work in progress, will have to face left-hander Jason Vargas (3-4, 3.77 ERA) on Friday. The veteran is 3-1 over four career starts against the Marlins with a 3.27 ERA, as all three victories have come in the past two seasons.
The Mets did win the first five meetings against the Marlins this season and have a 40-28 advantage in runs scored. It is New York's second-most victories against one team this season, behind the eight they have against the Nationals.
--Field Level Media
Mets looking to jump start second half in Miami