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MIA@STL: Alvarez allows one run over seven innings

Every time Henderson Alvarez and Zack Wheeler take the mound against the Mets and Marlins, respectively, it seems, an impressive performance is bound to follow. The two right-handers will face off Friday night at Citi Field as New York and Miami start a three-game series.

"One of the best pitching staffs in baseball is coming in this weekend," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "They're young, but you got Henderson Alvarez, you got Tom Koehler. We're not going to see [Nathan] Eovaldi, who's got as good an arm as anybody in the league. We got Brad Hand, who out of the bullpen, we can't hit him."

The Mets haven't been able to figure Alvarez out, either. He has posted a 0.84 ERA and a 2-0 record in three starts against them this year. Last time he faced the Mets on June 20, Alvarez kept them off the board despite scattering seven hits in 6 1/3 innings on the way to his fourth win of the season.

Miami's 24-year-old righty is cruising right now. He hasn't lost a decision in two months, and his team has recorded a win in each of his last 10 starts. In that span, Alvarez has allowed 11 earned runs in 66 1/3 innings (1.49 ERA), struck out 39 batters and issued just eight walks. He's held opponents to a .267 average and has even helped his own cause, going 7-for-25 at the plate.

In his last start on Sunday against the Cardinals -- in which he threw seven innings of one-run ball -- Alvarez collected three hits and even scored one of the Marlins' eight runs. He's done it all, stepping up big in the absence of reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez.

Alvarez's success can be attributed to two aspects. He works quickly, averaging a National League-best 3.35 pitches per plate appearance, according to ESPN. And his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, which ranked fourth in NL (1.34) entering Wednesday, has allowed him to limit the number of extra-base hits against him to 26, including just five homers in 115 innings this season.

"I'm getting all this attention about [potentially] going to the All-Star Game, but I think [Alvarez] should be there as well," said third baseman Casey McGehee, who ultimately finished fifth in the NL Final Vote. "He's had a heck of a first half, and he's top four or five in the league in ERA, and he's really taken over as far as being our ace we needed."

The Marlins have similarly struggled against Wheeler, who in four career starts against Miami has a 0.96 ERA.

His most recent outing against the Marlins is one he won't soon forget. Wheeler threw the first complete game and shutout of his year-old Major League career on June 19 at Marlins Park. He struck out eight and gave up just three hits and one walk. He faced one batter over the minimum in the 1-0 victory, and was able to keep Giancarlo Stanton out of commission by striking him out twice.

Despite Oakland doing a number on him in his next start, tagging him for six runs in two innings, Wheeler composed himself in the two turns that followed. On Sunday against the Rangers, he gave up six hits and two walks during 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball.

Since his debut on June 18, 2013, Wheeler has been one of New York's most consistent starters, going 11-13 with a 3.75 ERA in 201 2/3 innings. Only Dillon Gee and Jon Niese have been as effective. Gee is 11-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 179 2/3 innings, and Niese is 10-6 with a 3.08 ERA in 172 2/3 innings since Wheeler joined the Mets.

Marlins: Ozuna a threat to Mets
Outfielder Marcell Ozuna was responsible for the two outfield assists in the June 20 game that erased two potential tying runs in Miami's 3-2 victory over New York.

Ozuna has a .333 average in 17 career games against the Mets. In that four-game series last month, the Mets, though unable to control his throwing arm, were able to hold him to just three hits and one RBI in 12 at-bats.

Since then, Ozuna has mounted a 15-game hitting streak, the longest active streak in the Majors. He's gone 21-for-57 with five doubles, three homers and eight RBIs. He is one game shy of tying his career-best hit streak.

One of Ozuna's homers came against Arizona on Tuesday. The two-out round-tripper in the ninth inning plated two runs to give the Marlins a lead. Ozuna became the first player in Marlins history to hit a home run to give the team a lead after being one out away from a shutout loss.

Mets: d'Arnaud's hot hitting continues
Travis d'Arnaud's post-promotion resurgence is no secret. The New York backstop is hitting .296 (16-for-54) with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs while reaching base in all 14 games since returning from Triple-A Las Vegas.

As a result of that hot streak, Collins has rewarded d'Arnaud by moving him up to No. 5 in the starting lineup for the first time this season on Thursday. But will he stay there?

"That's up to Travis," Collins said. "If he keeps hitting, he'll be hitting third in another couple weeks."

d'Arnaud responded to the move with a 1-for-4 effort. About two-thirds of d'Arnaud's action in 2014 has come from the No. 7 spot. He is hitting .214 with a .641 OPS on the season.

Worth noting:
• Two of the NL's top hitters will face off in this series. Mets All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy and McGehee each have 112 hits, tying with San Francisco's Hunter Pence for tops in the Senior Circuit.

• The Mets' loss Thursday snapped a season-high four-game win streak. They have won five of seven on this homestand, through, and are 11-6 in their last 17 games at Citi Field. Their overall home record dipped back below .500 to 22-23.

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