The Miami Marlins entered Friday night’s home opener as unlikely NL East leaders. While most thought the Marlins would occupy the cellar of the division, Miami sits atop the NL East in August for the first time in franchise history. They’ve done so without more than half of their Opening Day roster. Friday night, the Marlins beat the Braves 8-2, thanks to aggressive baserunning, solid pitching and timely defense.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly credited the win to “a little bit of everything.” He called it “a well-rounded game,” and said: “We kind of got contributions from all over the place.”
Game Changing Speed
The most obviously difference for the Marlins was the game-changing speed at the bottom of the order.
“Speed is a difficult thing to deal with,” Mattingly said. “It just puts a little bit of pressure everywhere. You have to have guys who can get on base, who can hit, and then you can use that speed.”
Eddy Alvarez, Jon Berti and Magneuris Sierra, the 7-, 8- and 9-hole hitters, reached base six times and accounted for six of Miami’s eight runs. Jonathan Villar, the lead-off hitter, also used his speed to make plays.
The team swiped four bases for the second straight game, something they’ve only done three times in franchise history. Another franchise first occurred when Berti stole home in the fourth. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Miami stole home in consecutive games for the first time in club history and is the first team to do so since the Kansas City Royals on May 22-23, 1996.
Mattingly said postgame that Sierra is “bouncing around and creating havoc.” That’s certainly true, especially when he can turn a roller into right field from a single to a double.
In his last three games, Sierra is 3-for-9 with six runs scored, three RBI, three walks, two stolen bases and a double. He’s played well defensively, and the team is now 6-0 with him in the starting lineup.
Pablo’s Performance Helps Marlins Beat Braves
Pablo Lopez has proven to be the most important pitcher for the Marlins this season. Not only did Lopez’s shutdown performance against the Orioles coming off of quarantine inspire, his consistent ability to throw strikes and shut down opposing lineups has helped propel the Marlins to the top of the NL East.
“Pablo’s worked hard,” Mattingly said, “really just kind of making strides.”
Lopez went six innings, scattered seven hits (one home run), with two earned runs and a career-high eight strikeouts.
“With these last three starts, [I’ve been] trying to have a good rhythm. Trying to work the count, stay ahead. Minimize mistakes,” Lopez said after the game. “Me and Cervelli were on the same page. Mixing pitches, mixing eye-levels.”
Despite missing Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, this Braves offense still sports potent bats and Lopez knew he and Francisco Cervelli would need to use a variety of strategies. He gave up a first-inning home run to Travis d’Arnaud, but settled in nicely from there.
Lopez didn’t issue a walk and said after the game he was happier about that than the eight Ks. He has focused on his mechanics and developing a good rhythm and credits his chemistry with Cervelli.
Lopez was aided by timely defensive plays as well. Brian Anderson made a bare-handed play to throw out Marcel Ozuna with the bases loaded in the fifth, ending a potential run-scoring opportunity for the Braves. Matt Joyce also secured timely outs with diving plays in left field.
“You’ve got a bunch of grinders,” Joyce said after the game. “You’ve got a bunch of fighters. You also have a bunch of guys that are having fun. Right now, we’re on a good roll, and we’re having fun doing it.”
Prior to this game, the Marlins had largely relied on the home run for offense. They didn’t hit one on Friday and still managed eight runs. The combination of speed, pitching and defense proved to be the difference.
Joyce credited the win to that diversity. “Where you can go out there and win in different types of ways,” Joyce said. “I think that’s what good teams do.”
The Marlins will look to beat the Braves again tonight, but have Atlanta’s best pitcher, LHP Max Fried (3-0, 1.59) to deal with. Miami will counter with LHP Daniel Castano (0-1, 8.31), who’s making his second big league start.