Though they've failed to meet expectations this season, a strong finish and Jose Fernandez's return has the Miami Marlins optimistic about a turnaround in 2016.
Fernandez vies to remain unbeaten since his comeback from Tommy John surgery and prevent the Tampa Bay Rays from a three-game sweep Thursday night.
Fernandez is 6-0 with a 2.91 ERA in 10 starts following his 14-month recovery, though he endured his worst outing of the season Friday against Atlanta. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year was reached for six runs and nine hits in five innings, but received plenty of offensive support in a 12-11 victory to set an MLB record with his 18th consecutive winning decision at home to begin a career.
The Tampa high school product hasn't been as good on the road, sporting a 3.82 career ERA compared to a 1.40 mark at Marlins Park. Fernandez also struggled in his lone start at Tropicana Field, surrendering seven runs - four earned - in 3 1-3 innings of a 10-6 loss May 27, 2013.
Fernandez is 2-0 with a 4.60 ERA in three starts after a six-week absence caused by a biceps strain.
"When he pitches, the team is different," Marlins closer A.J. Ramos said. "He brings something to this team that nobody can explain."
Miami (69-89) is 17-10 since Aug. 31 and had won five straight prior to a 4-2 loss in Monday's opener. Drew Smyly led the Rays to a 6-4 victory Tuesday, yielding a run and three hits with eight strikeouts over six innings.
Grady Sizemore delivered a three-run double and finished 2 for 4 for Tampa Bay (77-81), which has won four of the five season meetings to claim the Citrus Series for the fourth time in five years.
He's 8 for 17 with nine RBIs during a six-game hitting streak.
While Fernandez aims to keep his unblemished record intact, Jake Odorizzi (8-9, 3.49) hopes to recapture his early-season form in his 2015 finale.
After posting a 3.02 ERA through his first 21 starts, Odorizzi has a 5.29 mark in his past six and has allowed eight runs and 15 hits over 10 2-3 innings in losing his last two. He permitted four runs in five innings during a 5-3 defeat at AL East champion Toronto Friday.
Odorizzi's struggles have extended to Tropicana Field, where he owns a 6.85 ERA over four outings after recording a 1.40 ERA through his first eight this season. Home runs have been a problem lately as well, as he's allowed eight in 29 1-3 September innings.
The right-hander has allowed 10 runs in nine innings in losing both previous starts against Miami, the last an 11-6 home defeat June 5, 2014.
Rays second baseman Logan Forsythe missed Wednesday's game after being hit by a pitch on his right foot in the opener. Nick Franklin started in his place and went 2 for 4 with a solo homer.