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Series preview: Pirates, Marlins hope to dash each others' playoff hopes

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, the Pirates begin a home series against the Marlins that could be key to the NL Wild Card race, in which the Bucs currently lead the Fish by one game. (Both teams remain behind the Giants and Cardinals.) Here's what to expect from the Marlins, who have struggled with injuries and

Schedule and probable pitchers

Friday, 7:05: Tom Koehler vs. Gerrit Cole
Saturday, 7:05: David Phelps vs. Chad Kuhl
Sunday, 1:35: Jose Urena vs. Ryan Vogelsong

So two days after the Nova/Cain matchup, the Pirates will have a Koehler vs. Cole matchup, with Chad Kuhl starting the following evening. This series has 80 pun potential.

Alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright alright okay so the inevitable Outkast references won't actually make much sense, and there's a more important point to be made about these matchups. Remember how the Nova/Cain matchup worked in the Bucs' favor because Matt Cain essentially handed the Pirates a win? It doesn't always work that way, but just as the Bucs dodged the Giants' best starters in San Francisco, they're going to do the same against the Marlins, who won't start Jose Fernandez or Adam Conley (who's hurt).

Tom Koehler is a No. 4 type whose 3.86 ERA runs way ahead of his peripherals. David Phelps has had a good season as a reliever, where his velocity has played up, but he's never been more than a back-end guy as a starter. And Luis Urena is a 24-year-old, hard-throwing righty whose strikeout rates indicate he hasn't yet mastered Triple-A. He isn't yet ready for prime time. As I wrote before the Giants series, there's opportunity here.

Position players

C J.T. Realmuto, Jeff Mathis
1B Chris Johnson
2B Dee Gordon
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
3B Martin Prado
IF Derek Dietrich
IF Miguel Rojas
IF Robert Andino
LF Christian Yelich
CF Marcell Ozuna
RF Ichiro Suzuki

As you've probably heard, Giancarlo Stanton is out for the season, and first baseman Justin Bour is currently out as well. That leaves the Marlins' lineup light on power. Chris Johnson, who hasn't hit at all since 2013 and who's batted .232/.293/.351 this season, is currently listed as the Marlins' starter at first base, which is terrible even as backup plans go. (Insert your John Jaso joke here if you like, but at least he gets on base.) To be fair, Derek Dietrich is a more viable option there, if he isn't starting elsewhere.

Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Martin Prado will lead the offense in Stanton's absence. Ozuna has 20 homers this season, and it turns out trading a 25-year-old regular with a top prospect pedigree probably would have been a terrible idea. (Who knew?) Yelich and Prado have hit especially well over the past month. And don't forget Dee Gordon, who has already stolen 14 bases in a season cut short by a PED suspension.

Bullpen

Fernando Rodney
Kyle Barraclough
Nick Wittgren
Mike Dunn
Brian Ellington
Dustin McGowan
Chris Narveson
Hunter Cervenka

A.J. Ramos (finger fracture) isn't project to return from the DL until Sunday, so Fernando Rodney, who'd previously been getting no respect at all, is currently closing. He hasn't pitched well since arriving in a late-June trade with the Padres, though. There's plenty of young firepower in the bullpen in Kyle Barraclough and Brian Ellington, although both pitchers are control-challenged -- Ellington, in particular, throws extremely hard, but only vaguely in the direction of the plate. Nick Wittgren isn't a flamethrower but has had a solid rookie season thanks to good control. Mike Dunn, an extreme fly-ball pitcher, is the best of the Marlins' trio of lefties, which also includes newcomers Chris Narveson and Hunter Cervenka.