The New York Mets, whose months-long lead in the National League East has shrunk to 2 1/2 games, are set to face the host Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.
New York lost the opener of the four-game series 6-3 on Monday. The Mets, who have dropped two games in a row, are just 8-10 since the All-Starbreak.
The Mets, who are being chased by the second-place Philadelphia Phillies as well as the Atlanta Braves (3 1/2 games back), will start slumping right-hander Taijuan Walker (7-5, 3.71 ERA) on Tuesday.
Walker, who made the All-Star Game for the first time this year, was 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA in the first half of this season. In three second-half starts, he is 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA.
However, Mets manager Luis Rojas said Walker -- who is 0-1 with a 4.66 ERA in two career appearances against Miami -- appears to be back on track.
"I was pleased with his last start and how his stuff was compared to the other two," Rojas said. "The other two gave me a little bit of concern just because his fastball wasn't carrying like it was in the first half."
Walker, who has dealt with various injuries, pitched a total of just 14 innings between 2018 and 2019. He pitched 53 1/3 innings last year.
This season, he is up to 99 1/3 innings, and the concern is that he may have hit the proverbial wall.
"His number of innings and all the work he has done so far -- we don't know if it's that," Rojas said. "But, in his last start, his four-seam fastball was carrying up in the zone, which is a good pitch for him."
The last-place Marlins, who had yet to announce their pitcher for Tuesday's game, prevailed Monday thanks in part to Lewis Brinson's second career grand slam.
The result snapped Miami's four-game losing streak.
Brinson, acquired in the January 2018 trade that netted the Milwaukee Brewers a future National League MVP in Christian Yelich, has yet to find his groove in the majors.
Now 27 years old, Brinson owns a career .194 batting average with a .561 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. His 2021 numbers are slightly improved -- a .235 batting average and a .683 OPS.
"Lew's swing is flat through the zone, which gives him the chance to drive the ball to all fields," said James Rowson, who is Miami's interim manager while Don Mattingly is out due to COVID-19 protocols.
"(Brinson's) approach continues to improve. I feel like Lew is close."
Something else to watch for on Tuesday is the health of Mets shortstop Javier Baez, who appeared to twist his left ankle while running to first on Monday night. Baez remained in the game, however.
The Mets did get good news when slumping Michael Conforto came off the bench and contributed a double in the ninth inning Monday.
Conforto is batting .200 with just six homers and 24 RBIs. Prior to the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 season, Conforto batted .257 with 33 homers and 92 RBIs in 2019.
"We're trying to get past his mental state at the plate," Rojas said of Conforto, who has been out of the starting lineup twice in the past three games. "He's thinking too much, which is holding him back from being aggressive.
"The goal is to simplify things so he can look for his pitch and take his 'A' swing."
--Field Level Media