Giants-Marlins preview

MIAMI -- Now that Ichiro Suzuki reached his milestone -- he banged out hit No. 3,000 on Sunday in Miami's 10-7 win over the Colorado Rockies -- the Marlins and their fans can more fully focus on the race for a wild-card playoff berth.

The Marlins, who went 2-4 on their just completed road trip, play host to the National League West-leading San Francisco Giants (63-48) on Monday night in the start of a three-game series.

Miami (59-52) leads the St. Louis Cardinals by one game and the New York Mets by two in the battle for the second and final NL wild card.

The Marlins have to like their chances to win Monday's opener as All-Star right-hander Jose Fernandez takes the mound in a stadium where he rarely loses. He is 26-2 with a 1.62 ERA at Marlins Park, making him one of the best home-field pitchers in the history of the game.

San Francisco, however, also feels pretty good about its starting pitcher, All-Star right-hander Johnny Cueto, who is 8-2 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.12 walks-plus-hits-per-inning-pitched ratio on the road this season.

Overall this season, Cueto is 13-3 with a 2.73 ERA. This is the 30-year-old's sixth season with double-figure wins, capped by his 20-9 record in 2014 and his 19-9 mark in 2012.

He accomplished those records with his original team, the Cincinnati Reds, but he has been a bit of nomad since he was traded in midseason 2015, winning a World Series last year with the Kansas City Royals and then signing a six-year, $130 million deal with the Giants in December.

The Giants won 16 of Cueto's first 18 starts this season, but San Francisco has since lost three of four.

Fernandez has yet to cash in on a Cueto-like contract. Even so, as long as Fernandez stays healthy, he soon will hit the lottery because his pitching prowess is unquestioned.

Still, the 24-year-old is in a mini-slump, having lost two games in a row for the first time since his rookie year of 2013.

Fernandez is 12-6 with a 2.87 ERA this year. His 192 strikeouts are already a career high, five more than he had in 2013.

In his only start against the Giants this year, Fernandez allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings during a 7-2 loss at San Francisco on April 23. His only other appearance vs. San Francisco was six-inning, three-run win last year.

"There's no rhyme or reason why guys you think you should have success off shut you down, and the elite pitchers, you have success against," Giants manager Bruce Bochy told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I wish I could explain it, but I can't. Part of it is, when you face them, are they on top of their game or not? That has something to do with it, too."

With Fernandez and Cueto pitching, expect a close battle on Monday, especially since the Giants and Marlins have played 13 times at Marlins Park, and 10 of those games were decided by two runs or fewer.

The Giants played a close game on Sunday, allowing only two hits but somehow managing to lose 1-0 to the Washington Nationals.

San Francisco wasted a great effort from Madison Bumgarner, who pitched his fourth complete game of the year.

The game had added meaning because the win gave the Nationals the season series, 4-3. If the teams finish with identical records and meet in the playoffs as division champs, the Nationals would get home-field advantage.

As for Suzuki, he became just the 30th major league player to reach 3,000 hits, and he joined Paul Molitor as the only ones to reach the milestone with a triple.

Suzuki was also the third player to reach 3,000 at age 42 or older, and he has the respect of virtually everyone in baseball.

"Being with (Suzuki) the past couple of years is so awesome," Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton said in a TV interview following Sunday's game. "For him to get it like that (a triple off the wall in right field) -- that was cool, too. We were all yelling, 'Get over! Get over!'

"We were able to hug him on the field, and that was cool."

Suzuki, speaking through a translator in a press conference after the game, was quite funny when asked about the pressure he felt starting the game 0-for-3.

"My body felt like Justin Bour's -- just so heavy," he said, referencing Miami's hefty first baseman. "But after that hit, the burden was lifted off."

Now that the chase is over, though, the Marlins have to get back to business. Third baseman Martin Prado left Sunday's game after fouling a pitch off his foot, and that is an injury to a team leader that could be crucial.