Marlins in San Francisco

5 Takeaways from Marlins Opening Series in San Francisco

The Miami Marlins opened the 2022 season in San Francisco, and found themselves in a tightly contested three-game series to start. Each of the three contests against the Giants finished with one-run margins, but Miami dropped two of the three. San Francisco sported the best record in baseball last season, and looks very much like a championship contender, so it’s heartening for Marlins fans to see Miami compete on the road with a team of that caliber.

That said, the Marlins still lost their opening series in San Francisco. Marlins manager Don Mattingly said early Sunday that the team moved past moral victories, but there were still positive developments for the team in the losses. Here are five takeaways.

Bullpen Bounce Back for Marlins in San Francisco

Much was made of Miami’s delayed addressing of its reliever corps this offseason. Although the Marlins bullpen sported a 3.81 ERA, seventh-lowest in MLB, and a 1.26 WHIP, eighth-lowest, last season, there still seemed to be a glaring need for a high-leverage reliever. But late in spring training Miami bolstered the bullpen in a trade with Baltimore.

The Marlins bullpen failed with its first attempt at a save in San Francisco, though. On Opening Day, key relievers surrendered runs, including Anthony Bender serving up a game-tying homer in the ninth to the first batter he faced as a closer this season. Richard Bleier and Anthony Bass also struggled in their first turns.

But the Marlins bullpen bounced back in the final two games of the series in San Francisco. Miami relievers pitched seven innings over those last two contests and did not surrender a run. The bullpen combined to allow just three base runners (two hits, one walk) with 10 strikeouts over those seven frames.

Marlins left-handed reliever Steven Okert, who spent his first three MLB seasons in San Francisco, struck out four of the six batters he faced, each with a slider. Tanner Scott and Cole Sulser, the players Miami acquired from the Orioles, also looked good in their Marlins debuts in San Francisco. The two relievers combined to pitch 2.2 innings in the series, striking out three and giving up one hit and one walk.

But perhaps the most important bounce backs came from Bender, Bleier, and Bass. Bender nailed down the save, and Bleier struck out the side in the eighth inning on Saturday. Bass tossed 1.1 innings on Sunday without allowing a baserunner.

Miami’s presumptive closer, Dylan Floro, started 2022 on the IL, but traveled with the team and tossed a 25-pitch bullpen session this weekend.

Surprisingly Solid Defense

The Marlins sought to upgrade their lineup this offseason, seemingly at the expense of their defensive makeup. Miami opted not to carry a natural centerfielder on its roster, choosing instead to bring in the best possible bats and having the defense sort itself out.

Although Avisail Garica and Jorge Soler were brought in to be among the big bats in the lineup, both players provided impressive plays on defense for the Marlins in San Francisco. Garcia cannoned a relay throw into the infield in the 10th inning on Opening Day that caught the Giants’ placed runner flatfooted. On Sunday, Soler robbed a homer from San Francisco first baseman Darin Ruf.

But the defensive highlight of the weekend for the Marlins in San Francisco came from Jazz Chisholm Jr.

Jacob Stallings demonstrated his defensive value on Opening Day by picking off a runner at second and throwing out a would-be base-stealer. Stallings also called great games for both Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez. Jesus Sanchez looked comfortable in the spacious center field in Oracle Park.

That said, outfield shifts seemed to afford San Francisco too many scoring opportunities this weekend. On two different occasions, including during the game-winning hit on Opening Day, the outfield shift opened pathways for the Giants to turn singles into extra-base hits and score runs.

Soler Breaks Out on Sunday

Not much was expected of Jorge Soler as a defender, so his homerun-robbing grab provided an added bonus to the day. Entering the 2022 season, Soler sported a minus-5 defensive runs saved as a left fielder in his career. But he saved a run for the Marlins in San Francisco on Sunday with this catch:

The Marlins brought Soler to Miami for the added pop to the lineup. Soler once led the American League in home runs. He earned a World Series MVP with the Atlanta Braves last year thanks to clutch postseason hitting. But Soler’s Marlins tenure started quietly.

Soler went hitless with four strikeouts in his first seven at-bats for the Marlins in San Francisco. But he worked a pair of walks on Saturday in his final two plate appearances and followed that with three hits and a walk on Sunday. Soler reached base in six straight plate appearances, which is exactly what the club is looking from a leadoff hitter.

Pablo Impresses in His First Turn

Pablo Lopez made his first start of the season for the Marlins in San Francisco. The 26-year-old righty entered his fifth season in MLB after injury issues limited the end of his 2021 season. But in his first start, Lopez limited San Francisco to one run, surrendering three hits and a walk over five innings. He struck out six, and retired 12 straight Giants at one point on Saturday.

This was an impressive outing for Lopez following the struggles he had this spring. Over three Spring Training starts, Lopez allowed nine earned runs over eight innings pitched. He surrendered 12 hits, five walks, and two homers, while striking out 11. What concerned the most about these outings wasn’t the ineffectiveness, but the dramatic drop in fastball velocity following his injury.

But on Saturday, all looked right for Lopez. He velocity ticked back up to its normal range, and his changeup garnered several whiffs. Over the five innings, Lopez induced 15 swing-and-misses, with a 39 percent CSW rate on his 79 pitches. CSW, or called plus swinging strike percentage, is a predictive and descriptive measure of a pitcher’s true skill. League average sits around 29 percent, and anything above 35 percent is considered elite.

Marlins Struggle with RISP in San Francisco

The Marlins front office opted to focus on the lineup this offseason, seeking to add bats to last year’s flounder offense. But the early returns for the Marlins in San Francisco showed a disappointing trend continuing for the Fish.

Last season, the Marlins ranked 24th in MLB, hitting just .239 with runners in scoring position. Through the three-game set against the Giants, Miami managed just two hits in 22 tries with runners in scoring position. That .091 average checks in at 29th in baseball, trailing just the Baltimore Orioles (.083).

During the 3-2 loss on Sunday, the Marlins put the leadoff runner on base in six different innings. Miami registered 11 hits on Sunday, but plated just two runs.

The middle of Miami’s order struggled in particular. Jesus Aguilar, Garrett Cooper, and Garcia combined to go 6-for-37, with nine strikeouts and only one RBI (which came on a hit-by-pitch).

“Offensively, I think this is not really an indication of what we’re going to be,” Mattingly said after the game on Sunday.  “I think we’re going to be a dangerous club as the summer goes on.”

For the series, the Marlins stranded 22 runners on base. Considering Miami’s two losses each came by just one run, that’s something that must improve going forward. Last season, the Marlins sported a 21-29 record in one-run contests.

The Marlins look to build on these positives during their quick two-game trip to Los Angeles. They face the Angels on Monday and Tuesday.

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