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Series Preview: Reds take their talents to South Beach for showdown with surprising Marlins

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King doing what he does: hit.
King doing what he does: hit.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Game Times and Probable Pitchers

Marlins Park

Friday, July 8, 2016, 7:10 ET: RHP Dan Straily vs. RHP Jose Fernandez

Saturday, July 9, 2016, 4:10 ET: LHP John Lamb vs. LHP Adam Conley

Sunday, July 10, 2016, 1:10 ET: LHP Cody Reed vs. RHP Tom Koehler

When they lace them back up on today, they’ll be opposite of one of the best pitchers in the game. And they’ll be facing him in a venue where the 23-year-old phenom just doesn’t lose.

Fernandez has pitched 35 games in Marlins Park, and in those, owns a win-loss record of 24-1 with a 1.48 ERA. Pitcher wins are dumb, of course, but when you run up that big of a difference (pitching for some not-very-good Marlins teams), you’re obviously doing something very well.

I guess the good news for the Reds is that the one loss was hung just a month ago at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks, where Fernandez gave up four earned runs over six innings, striking out eight and walking none. Couple that with his last outing (IN Atlanta, unfortunately), a very poor 5.2 inning affair in which Jose allowed the Braves nine runs (seven in the sixth inning), and the Reds are looking at an All Star who’s desperately trying to get right.

What’s that? Oh, Fernandez struck out 13 Cubs over seven innings in his start before that disaster in Atlanta. The Reds could be in for a long night.

Saturday, the Marlins will turn to Adam Conley, who’s having a solid sophomore season for the Marlins. On the season, Conley owns a 3.65 ERA with a 110 ERA+ (the only other regular rotational piece with an ERA+ above 100).

In the midst of a hot 2016 start, Eno Sarris at Fangraphs looked at what exactly Conley had subtly corrected.

Conley’s 3.89 FIP suggests that the results have been a bit better than actual performance, and he leads the league in HBP, while also yielding nearly four walks per nine innings pitched. That’s a lot.

Conley’s able to limit righties (.700 OPS against) and hard contact in general (RHB .375 SLG, LHB .378 SLG), but tends to allow solid contact to lefties (.300 BA, .356 OBP) amid some tough batted ball luck (.351 BABIP against lefties). That reverse split is obviously good news to Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, but not such good news for the rest of lineup.

Tom Koehler will take the bump on Sunday. I've no idea who that is, but Baseball Reference tells me he's been a thoroughly "meh" pitcher for the Marlins for the past several seasons. This year, the 30-year-old right hander is rocking a 4.40 ERA (91 ERA+). The main problem: he walks everybody. Of all qualified pitchers, Koehler is third in the major leagues in walks per nine innings at 4.7.

Brandon Finnegan, Reds pitcher, is second with 4.71.

His WHIP sits at 1.543, so he certainly doesn't limit hits, either. In his last three starts, Koehler has gone only 14 innings, allowed a 1.051 OPS against and a 7.07 ERA. If they Reds want to take one, this one should be up for grabs.

Lineup

C JT Realmuto

1B Justin Bour

2B Derek Dietrich

SS Adeiny Hechavarria

3B Martin Prado

LF Christian Yelich

CF Marcell Ozuna

RF Giancarlo Stanton

*Hit King Ichiro Suzuki

For several years here at Red Reporter, you might have read a prominent writer here bandy about a young Marlins outfielder by the name of Christian Yelich (I know there are more, but sb nation search bar sucks butt). Well, guess what? After several years of consistently good play, the former top prospect is in the midst of a breakout season.

Long story short: he's hitting for more power than ever (ISO and SLG at career highs), hitting balls hard at a career high rate, and pulling the ball more often (while still being a threat to go oppo). He's dramatically cut down on swinging at balls outside of the zone, and while his BB/K remains relatively constant, the contact that he is making is likely to be better contact.

At .389, the BABIP seems unsustainable, until you look at the career rate of .369. So, we've been here before with Yelich. He's not just getting lucky.

This happening all while three hundred million dollar man, Giancarlo Stanton, struggles to return to form after a 2015 campaign ended after only 74 games. Though, for what it's worth, Stanton has come into it as of late. Staring down a .718 OPS in mid-June, Giancarlo has slashed .333/.392/.681 in 79 PA since June 15th.

Also joining the fray of mashers in a somewhat surprisingly potent Marlins lineup is the breakout of Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna has already compiled 3.2 fWAR on the season, and is currently on pace to smash his career best 2014 campaign, that saw him post a 3.7 fWAR and 115 wRC+.

As it stands today, the first time All Star is mashing stellar .310/.363/.540. All while changing relatively little about his approach, crediting Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds for the tutelage.

Oh, and the Reds will get to be up close and personal with the One True Hit King himself this weekend. Must be pretty cool for the team to be around a guy that has that many hits, imvho.

Bullpen

AJ Ramos

David Phelps

Kyle Barraclough

Dustin McGowen

Nick Wittgren

Mike Dunn

Fernando Rodney

39 year-old Fernando Rodney is here now, being shipped over from the Padres after a stellar start to the 2016 campaign. With the Friars, Rodney had maintained an absolutely incredible (and completely unsustainable) 0.31 ERA through 28.2 innings. His four appearances in South Florida haven't gone as well as suspected, as he's given up three earned runs in four innings.

The pen, in general, looks to be in pretty good shape. AJ Ramos has 25 saves (and blown only one), maintaining a low 2 ERA. Bullpen mate David Phelps has blown five, if you care about that sort of thing. Phelps, however, has better peripherals nearly across the board. Don't be surprised if Phelps and Ramos begin to see opposite results.

Outlook

The Marlins are surprisingly adept at winning games this season. As it stands today, they're only 2.5 games back of the second wildcard (one half game in front of the St. Louis Cardinals, it shouldn't be noted but it's fun, so I'm going to note it anyway).

So, this isn't some bottom feeder contest to see who's the best of the worst (we'll get that when the All Star break wraps up in series immediately with ATL and MIL). The Marlins are, at least right now, playing legitimately good baseball right now. With Jose Fernandez on the mound tonight, that one is going to be tough get. But, this is a team that just took a series from the best in baseball on the road.

When the offense doesn't roll over and die (which can happen on any given night), the pitching reinforcements the team has received lately have helped the bullpen dumpster fire simmer down a bit, meaning the team isn't always quite as easy of a W as it was just 30 days ago.

Read Also:

The Marlins had four deserving All-Star bids

The Marlins have an Ozuna decision to make

Giancarlo Stanton has returned