Expectations were high for the Miami Marlins after a spending spree last winter put them in position to challenge for the NL East title. What was not expected is that challenge would be presented to the New York Mets and Washington Nationals at this stage of the 2012 campaign.
That is where we stand, however, eight weeks into the schedule with the Nationals on top of the division and holding a 2.5-game advantage over the Mets and Marlins in a deadlock for second.
Miami cut into that lead with a 5-3 triumph Monday as 115 chalk vs. Washington, and the two squads were set to play Game 2 of the series on Tuesday when the Fish were $1.35 home favorites. Anibal Sanchez was slated to pitch for the Marlins against the Nats' Edwin Jackson with a 7½-run total.
The division foes will draw their series to a close Wednesday night (7:10 ET). Chien-Ming Wang is in line to make his first start of the season for Washington while Josh Johnson takes his turn in Ozzie Guillen's rotation.
Wang has made one 3-inning relief stint since returning from the DL, picking up the win and allowing a solo homer for the only damage while he was on the mound last Friday in Atlanta. He made 11 starts for the Nats in the second half of 2011, facing the Fish in one of those. At Nationals Park, Wang worked 6-2/3 and allowed three runs – all on home runs to Gaby Sanchez and Brett Hayes – in grabbing the win.
Johnson was nicked up in his last outing (5 IP, 3 ER), but the Marlins still got the 7-6 home win over Tim Lincecum and the Giants to reward those laying $1.50 in the contest. It was the fifth straight Miami win with Johnson on the hill as the big right-hander has been showing signs of finally getting back to form following his shoulder injury.
The series opener on Monday was the 301st game between the two clubs, and Miami's victory left the Marlins with a 170-131 record in the series (90-57 since 2004 when the Expos left Quebec for DC). Four of the last five contests have gone 'under' the total.
Snakes & G-Men Collide In NL West Battle
While all five clubs in the NL East were over .500 and packed within four games of each other entering play on Tuesday, the NL West standings couldn't be more different. The Los Angeles Dodgers were holding a 6.5-game lead over second-place San Francisco, and 10.5 ahead of third-place Arizona.
It was the Giants and Diamondbacks who were supposed to battle for the division flag this year, and their ongoing series in San Francisco could very well determine which team is going to present any challenge to the Dodgers in 2012. They will complete the 3-game set Wednesday (10:15 p.m. ET) with a mound duel between a couple of struggling pitchers who were expected to serve as staff aces. Ian Kennedy gets the call for Kirk Gibson's D-Backs and Tim Lincecum is on the bump for Bruce Bochy's Giants.
San Francisco drew first blood with a 4-2 win Monday as a +110 underdog, the Giants' third straight victory over the Diamondbacks this season after dropping the first four clashes. The middle game of the series found the Giants 125 favorites behind Ryan Vogelsong; Joe Saunders was scheduled for Arizona and the match carried a 7-run total.
Kennedy takes the hill Wednesday on a personal 5-game losing skid, while the Snakes have dropped his last six starts. The former USC standout has been bitten by the long ball bug with seven drives leaving the yard during his last four assignments (23 IP). He beat the Giants in his season debut, working into the seventh at home while allowing three runs in a 5-4 win, and Arizona was 4-1 vs. San Fran with Kennedy on the mound last year (1.22 ERA).
That win for Kennedy against the Giants back in April came at Lincecum's expense, and it has been a struggle for the wee right-hander ever since. The 2-time Cy Young winner checks in with a 6.41 ERA which is more than three runs higher than his career mark. The Giants are 1-4 in his five outings at AT&T Park where he has a bloated 4.80 ERA this season