Preview: Marlins try to maintain momentum as they return home to host Padres

MIAMI -- It's "Players' Weekend" in the majors as the athletes will have nicknames on the backs of their jerseys.

For the Miami Marlins, though, what they really want is another winning weekend.

The Marlins (63-63), who were well under .500 for most of the season, return home to Marlins Park as a break-even club, ready to take on the San Diego Padres (57-70).

Given San Diego's poor record, the schedule-makers have blessed the Marlins with another chance to make up ground in the National League wild-card race.

When the Marlins left home Aug. 16, they were 8 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot. Now they are 5 1/2 games back, and suddenly, catching the Colorado Rockies or Arizona Diamondbacks doesn't seem laughable.

The Marlins, though, still have to pass the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers en route to catching Colorado or Arizona. The task will not be easy, and it still seems highly improbable.

It's just not impossible -- not after a 5-2 road trip that included an inspiring 9-8 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday after Miami trailed 8-3.

"It changed our trip," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of the comeback.

The Friday pitching matchup features two left-handers: Miami's Adam Conley (6-5, 4.93 ERA) and San Diego's Travis Wood (3-4, 5.81).

Conley has been inconsistent this year. After a horrible seven-game beginning in which he compiled a 7.53 ERA and was demoted to Triple-A New Orleans in May, Conley has been much better, sporting a 4-2 record since being recalled July 18.

However, his past two starts have shown such a wild variance that it almost seemed as if Conley were two different pitchers. He stuck out no one -- the first time that has happened in his career -- on Aug. 14 against the San Francisco Giants. But on Sunday, he struck out 11 in a victory over the New York Mets.

Wood hasn't been very predictable either. In his two most recent road games, he allowed 10 runs (nine earned) in 10 innings.

But in his most recent home start against the first-place Washington Nationals, Wood was dominant. He allowed an unearned run and three hits in seven innings during a 3-1 win Saturday.

In 10 career games (four starts) against the Marlins, Wood is 1-3 with a 7.92 ERA.

Conley has been much better against San Diego, although it is a small sample size. In two appearances (one start), Conley is 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA.

On Friday, Conley will face an inexperienced Padres lineup that includes rookie second baseman Carlos Asuaje, who played ball locally at Nova Southeastern University.

Asuaje is batting second in the Padres' lineup, and it is a great spot for him, according to his college coach.

"He's a great bat-control guy," NSU coach Greg Brown said of Asuaje, who went 3-for-5 on Thursday and is batting .293. "Since he bats left-handed, he can move runners more readily, and he makes pitchers work. Batting second really fits Carlos."

Wood's challenge figures to be much tougher as he faces a Miami lineup that includes right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who leads the majors with 47 homers. Stanton has hit a franchise single-month record of 14 homers in August.

The Marlins are coming off a game in which their bullpen pitched five scoreless innings. Rookie Jarlin Garcia (1-2), who earned his first major league win Thursday, said he believes the Marlins can keep their run going.

And Garcia could not have been happier with how things worked out Thursday.

"Yes, yes, yes, yes," Garcia said in Spanish when asked if he knew he was in line for the win. "I let out a yell!"