With the season on the brink, amid pouring rain in Atlanta, GA, the Miami Marlins turned to Pablo Lopez. After much heralded pitching prospects Trevor Rogers and Sixto Sanchez failed to get the Marlins back on track, the 24-year-old veteran in his third season settled the Marlins on the mound and gave the team the opportunity to stop the skid and maintain their hold on a playoff spot. The Marlins managed a 4-2 victory over the Braves in what was the latest most important game of the topsy-turvy 2020 season.
Lopez went five innings and surrendered only two hits while piling up six strikeouts, including the 200th of his MLB career.
“Obviously, every game is important in a short season like this one,” López said. “We knew coming into today that this is the biggest game yet. We’ve seen the Braves the last three days. Obviously, it’s a tough matchup.”
The Marlins entered Thursday night’s matchup losers of four straight and watched their lead in the playoff race dwindle to 0.5 games. With the Phillies nipping at their heels, Miami turned to Lopez, who’s been one of the few constants this season, and he turned in one of the biggest performances of the season.
But he wasn’t alone. The offense, which has sputtered of late and has been maddeningly inconsistent throughout the season, found just enough of a rhythm. The bullpen also turned in a critical performance.
The Marlins Offense Came Through in the Clutch
In the sixth inning, tied at zero, the Marlins offense went to work. Brian Anderson reached on an error, then Garrett Cooper singled, moving Anderson to third. A pair of strikeouts followed and the Marlins seemed like the same old story of lackluster offense would hold true in this spot. But backup catcher Chad Wallach came through.
Wallach, starting thanks to his recent chemistry with Lopez on the mound, punched an 2-0 offering from Ian Anderson into right field. That scored Anderson and moved Cooper to third.
Jon Berti came to the plate and continued Miami’s two-out magic by ripping a two-run double to left. The Marlins held a 3-0 lead entering the top of the sixth.
The Bullpen Held On
Marlins manager Don Mattingly turned to Yimi Garcia earlier than usual when he summoned the right-hander from the ‘pen in the sixth. Garcia walked Marcell Ozuna, but proceeded to get Travis d’Araud to line out, then registered a pair of strikeouts of Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall.
In the seventh inning, Jesus Aguilar extended the Marlins lead with a home run off AJ Minter. It was Aguilar’s eighth homer of the season.
James Hoyt and Richard Bleier combined work through a tense seventh before Marlins closer Brandon Kintzler entered in the eighth to attempt a six-out save. Brad Boxberger had loaded the bases without recording an out, and although Kintzler surrendered a pair of runs on a Dansby Swanson single, he limited the damage to two.
“He comes in a tough spot,” Mattingly said of Kintzler after the game. “I’d trade outs for runs at that point. Obviously, a great job getting us through there, and he had to go through their top of the order in the ninth.”
Kintzler notched his first career six-out save and the 60th save of his career with the Marlins win.
“That was a really big win,” Wallach said afterwards. “We’ve been doing that all year. When we’ve gotten down and may have lost a couple of games, we’ve battled back when we’ve needed to. We played a great game, and that’s just something we’ve done all year. Hopefully, we can continue it going on.”
Playoffs on the Line in New York
The Marlins (29-28) head to New York for a crucial three-game series against the Yankees. Miami holds a slim one-game lead over the Phillies (28-29) for second place in the NL East and a guaranteed playoff spot. The Phillies are in St Petersburg to face the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend. The Marlins hold the tiebreaker over Philadelphia and their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to two.
The Marlins have Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12 ERA) taking the mound against the Yankees in an effort to possibly clinch their first postseason berth since 2003.