The Miami Marlins entered their three-game Citrus Series tilt against in-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays, above .500 in August for the first time in a long time. They were coming off taking two of three from the Mets in New York, then working with the Mets to stage a walk off. Back in Miami, though, the Rays dominate the Marlins over three games, en route to the series sweep.
Here are five takeaways from the Rays sweep of the Marlins.
Elite Starting Pitching
Any Marlins fan would have taken a pair of games where the starting pitchers combined to throw 14 innings, allowing just two earned runs and one walk while posting 15 strikeouts. Sixto Sanchez and Pablo Lopez were dominant in their starts, but they received literally zero run support.
Sixto’s start was particularly encouraging, as the 22-year-old tore through the Tampa Bay lineup and demonstrated his potential as an ace.
“He was really good,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Sanchez after the game. “He was in control all night. Used his changeup a lot. Was able to elevate. He gives you seven innings of scoreless [work].”
Lopez was nearly as good. He posted his sixth straight start of at least five innings and no more than two earned runs. That ties the best such start in Marlins history with Josh Johnson (6 games) in 2011 and Anibal Sanchez (6 games) in 2012. Lopez is one of just 10 pitchers in MLB to post as many such starts this season.
“I felt like this is the best Pablo has thrown,” Mattingly said. “He gives up the run on a Díaz chopper, just unfortunate. … He was able to use all of his pitches. His sequences were good. I thought he did a great job all night. He was really good.”
On Sunday, the Marlins welcomed back ace Sandy Alcantara from the IL. Sandy looked to end the Marlins skid and avoid the sweep at the hands of the Rays. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be and Tampa Bay jumped on him early.
“Today, this is my first start,” Alcantara said after the game. “It was like Opening Day. It was a little different for me. My first two innings, I was too quick. I could feel it [with my] four-seamer. I had to calm down and try to make a pitch.”
Although he ultimately surrendered eight runs (five earned), Alcantara’s return means the Marlins are closer to throwing elite arms at opposing lineups every day.
Dormant Offense During Most of Rays Sweep of Marlins
Perhaps the most frustrating element of the Rays sweep of the Marlins was the lack of production at the plate. Veteran hitters failed to convert in key opportunities and the Marlins were shut out on back-to-back nights.
Before Corey Dickerson’s fourth inning home run on Sunday, the Marlins went 39 straight scoreless innings in Marlins Park against the Rays.
On Friday night, the team managed just five hits. On Saturday, just three. The Marlins were a combined 0-for-5 with runners-in-scoring-position during those games, both very winnable contests.
Mattingly lamented the lack of offense after Sanchez’s performance: “He gives us a chance to get on the board. We just weren’t able to get on the board for him.”
After Saturday’s game, Mattingly admitted the team’s frustrations.
“Any time it’s happening in a short run like this, it’s frustrating,” he said. “You know you’re getting good outings, and you’re not really able to do anything with it.”
On Sunday, the offense came to life some, but too late. Dickerson’s homer in the fourth made it a 5-1 deficit, but the Rays put up seven runs in the fifth. The Marlins did post seven runs over the span of four innings but couldn’t continue any of their rallies to truly threaten the Rays.
After the game, Mattingly said the offense showed “some decent signs. Hopefully we can kind of get this thing rolling and get back a little bit more of a groove as you get into this final month.”
Return of Garrett Cooper Provide Life
One of the bright spots from the Rays sweep of the Marlins was the return of Garrett Cooper to the lineup. Cooper went 4-for-13 with two doubles, a home run and four RBI. His bat clearly lengthens a lineup that has struggled at times this season to score runs.
“Getting him back, you obviously see what you missed,” Mattingly said on Sunday. “Coop, that’s the one thing, he’s always been able to hit. It’s good to have him back. Hopefully, we can get everybody going around that.”
With Jesus Aguilar dealing with back issues, Cooper should be a fixture in the lineup moving forward. His versatility to play first base, right field or DH provides Mattingly with a veteran bat to deploy in the middle of the lineup.
Unfriendly Confines of Marlins Park
Normally, teams perform better at home than on the road. In 2020, that has not been the case at all for the Marlins. The Marlins are 13-7 (.650) on the road this season, the fourth-best road winning pct. in the Majors (second in NL behind the Dodgers: 14-5, .737); only the Dodgers have more road wins. They have outscored opponents 97-86 away from home.
At Marlins Park, however, they’re 1-8, with eight straight loses.
“I can’t explain home, why we haven’t played as well,” Mattingly said. “I can guess at stuff, and I would just be guessing. On the road, you have nothing else but going to the ballpark. You’re stuck in a hotel. The only time you get out is when you’ve got to go to the ballpark. It’s the one time you have a little freedom.”
With 17 of their final 30 games at home, the Marlins will have to figure out these struggles quickly if they want to make a playoff push.
The biggest struggles have come offensively, as the team is hitting just .212 at Marlins Park. Miami’s home OPS is .568, whereas on the road their OPS is .711 with a .247 batting average.
Prior to Sunday’s offensive outburst, the Marlins had connected on only three home runs in Marlins Park. Sunday saw three leave the park, as Dickerson, Cooper and Lewis Brinson all connected on big flys.
Struggles Lead to Uncertainty at Trade Deadline
This Rays sweep of the Marlins, and four-game losing skid overall, has come at a difficult time for the front office. As Monday’s Trade Deadline approaches, the Marlins are below .500 for the first time this season (14-15), but they are still clinging to a playoff spot.
Being in the pennant race might dictate an out-of-character move from the Marlins.
“Traditionally, we have not been a team in the last few years that has been buying anything,” Mattingly said prior to Sunday’s game. “I’m not sure we’re going to be giving any prospects away to get one piece.”
The Marlins are poised to end a 17-year playoff drought with a solid September. A key contest looms against the New York Mets this afternoon, then 12 of their final 30 against either the Philadelphia Phillies or Washington Nationals. If the Marlins can win each of those series, they could end MLB’s second-longest playoff drought.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Marlins decide to move any of their veterans. Teams have called about closer Brandon Kintzler and utility player Jonathan Villar. The Marlins could also part with young veteran starters in Jose Urena and/or Caleb Smith.
It’s hard to imagine the Marlins giving up one of their prized prospects to rent a bat for a month. Unless the deal is similar to the one with Arizona last season (where Zac Gallen was flipped for Jazz Chisholm), it’s unlikely Miami parts with a top-end prospect.