May 08, 2014

NEW YORK -- As unusual as the New York Mets rotation appears to be this week, manager Terry Collins did not devise it by throwing a bunch of names into a hat. But perhaps Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly will do that with his lineup as he tries to generate some offense for his sputtering club.

A pair of National League wild card contenders will meet Monday night, when the Mets host the Miami Marlins in the opener of a pivotal four-game series at Citi Field.

The Marlins (67-63) and Mets (66-64) are chasing the St. Louis Cardinals, who currently occupy the second wild card spot. The Cardinals (68-61) lead the Pittsburgh Pirates (67-61) by a half-game, with the Marlins (1 1/2 games back) and the Mets (2 1/2 games back) running third and fourth.

Both the Mets and Marlins missed opportunities to gain on the Cardinals on Sunday, when New York lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1 while Miami fell, 1-0, to the San Diego Padres.

The Marlins scored just one run in losing the final two games of a three-game series to the Padres. Miami scored only 19 runs in the last eight games, a span in which it has scored more than three runs once.

Following Sunday's loss, Mattingly, tongue presumably planted firmly in cheek, said he might follow in the footsteps of his former manager, the late Billy Martin, and get creative in hopes of snapping the Marlins out of their slump.

"We could throw (names) in a hat and spin it around and hope magic pops out," Mattingly said.

Collins is hoping for some magic as well with a piecemeal starting rotation. With usually sturdy right-hander Jacob deGrom being skipped due to his recent struggles -- he has allowed 13 runs over 9 2/3 innings in his last two starts -- the Mets will promote right-hander Rafael Montero from Double-A Binghamton for Monday's opener against Marlins ace right-hander Jose Fernandez.

Montero, who has made nine big league starts but has not started for the Mets since April 28, 2015, is expected to be followed in the rotation Tuesday by rookie right-hander Seth Lugo, who will be making his third big league start. The Mets' losing pitcher Sunday was rookie right-hander Robert Gsellman, who made his first career start.

"I always look at it as a learning process, and if these guys are going to pitch at the major league level, there's no better learning area than to pitch in a pennant race and learn how to deal with the pressures and the stress of what you've got to do to go out and do your job," Collins said.

The strength of the Mets was supposed to be their quartet of young fireballers -- right-handers deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey and left-hander Steven Matz -- but Harvey is out for the season after undergoing surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome and Matz is on the disabled list with a sore left shoulder, though he is expected to return and start Thursday's series finale.

"Yeah, this is the first time I've had three rookies -- basically, three rookies -- in a row pitching," said Collins, who has managed 1,818 major league games. "But it's what we've got."

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