The Miami Marlins suffered through a week-long quarantine and eight-day hiatus from on-field baseball activities. The COVID-19 outbreak ripped through the clubhouse, particularly the bullpen, and ultimately required 18 players to be moved to the IL. This forced management to turn over the roster with waiver claims, free agent signings and prospect promotions. And despite all of that, the Marlins have resumed their season with an impressive three-game win streak (and four straight overall).
“Good to put some wins on the board,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after the doubleheader on Wednesday. By sweeping the doubleheader, Mattingly pulled even with Jack McKeon for the most wins as a manager in franchise history (281).
Mattingly, in his fifth season with the franchise, started the season tied with Fredi Gonzalez at 276 wins on the all-time list. McKeon finished his career with a 281-257 record (.522) and a World Series title in 2003. A win Thursday would give Mattingly sole possession of the all-time mark for manager wins with the Marlins and push the team’s winning streak to five games.
The Marlins win streak has been a feel-good story for the club after an incredibly difficult week. Here’s a look at five reasons for the Marlins’ unlikely win streak.
The COVID-19 outbreak decimated the team’s pitching staff. Eight of 12 bullpen arms and three starters were lost. President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill and his staff scrambled over the last week-plus to assemble a competitive staff with waiver claims, trades and free agent signings.
But the piecemeal pitching staff has been impressive.
The Marlins shut out the Orioles for the first 21.2 innings of the three games, including a pair of shut-out wins.
“It started with Pablo in the first game, he set the tone for the whole staff,” said Sterling Sharp, who made his MLB debut on Wednesday, throwing 1.2 innings. “We just fed off that. It’s a real contagious feeling once you see guys go out there putting up zeros. You want to match that.”
Pablo Lopez tossed five shutout innings with seven strikeouts on Tuesday in his season debut. Four bullpen arms followed, giving up just one hit and one walk, striking out four over four innings.
On Wednesday, Elieser Hernandez nearly matched Lopez’s performance. He pitched 4.1 scoreless, striking out five and didn’t surrender a hit until a one-out double in the fifth inning. Three relievers finished the game, allowing just one hit and one walk over the final 2.2 innings.
The nightcap of the doubleheader was entirely a bullpen game for the Marlins. Six pitchers combined to hold the Orioles to one run on four hits and four walks with seven strikeouts over the seven innings.
Josh A. Smith made the start in his Marlins debut and Sharp followed with his MLB debut. Brian Moran and Justin Shafer also appeared, with Shafer surrendering the lone run. And Stephen Tarpley closed the game with a save to extend the Marlins win streak to three.
“The bullpen,” Matting said. “What a day.”
Even position players have marveled at the performance.
“Our pitching has been incredible,” said Brian Anderson. “I don’t know how they go from throwing into a mattress and going out and getting big league hitters out like that. But whatever they’re doing, we’ve got to keep doing it.”
New Additions Hitting
While the pitching has been the story during this Marlins win streak, there’s been some timely hitting as well. Miami did just enough in the doubleheader to get the wins, after posting four runs on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday, catcher Francisco Cervelli started the scoring with a solo home run in the fifth inning. Jonathan Villar singled and scored, Corey Dickerson doubled and Jesus Aguilar hit his third home run of the season. He became just the third Marlin to hit three home runs in his first four games with the club, joining Derrek Lee (2002) and Cliff Floyd (1998).
On Wednesday, Anderson provided all the scoring for Game 1 with his solo homer. In Game 2, Villar scored on a sac-fly from Aguilar, and Jon Berti scored on an Anderson RBI single, all in the first inning. From there, the pitching held on.
It took the Marlins five games to connect on eight home runs this season. In 2019, the team didn’t hit their eighth until the ninth game of the season.
The Marlins turned over much of their roster heading into 2020, then had to do so again after three games thanks to COVID-19. Many clubs could have folded under the pressure, but this team has not. Even prior to the shutdown, the Marlins fought back from a five-run deficit in Philadelphia after losing three teammates to the virus.
“In the clubhouse, you could feel the vibe from all the new guys,” Sharp said Wednesday. “They’re just coming in and they want to contribute. We’ve got a good vibe going. Everybody is excited. We want to push forward.”
Veterans like Cervelli and new closer Brandon Kintzler have stepped forward to mentor the younger players on the roster. Lewis Brinson mentioned Dickerson as being particularly useful source of hitting knowledge.
Miguel Rojas is the club’s unofficial captain. Even in quarantine, Rojas has been an uplifting presence for the team. And one of the other holdovers from the 2019 roster, Anderson, has also taken on a leadership role.
“All it’s about for us is trying to get wins,” said Anderson. “Just piecing them together any way we can.”
Defensive Versatility Helps Marlins Win Streak
Anderson demonstrated his leadership and versatility by taking on a new challenge in the second game of the doubleheader. Anderson started at first base for the first time in his MLB career. He said the only time he played first base was in an emergency situation while playing in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.
“We looked at our options at first and Andy was the best one,” Mattingly said. “He did a good job. Andy’s pretty athletic. Obviously, we’ve seen him at third. We’ve put him in right and he looks good. You put him in that crease out there in right-center in the shift and he looks good there. He’s good everywhere.”
This emergency situation necessitated Anderson’s move to first. With Garrett Cooper already on the IL, newly signed infielder Logan Forsythe unavailable and Aguilar taking DH, the Marlins options were limited.
Anderson’s multi-positional flexibility mirrors that of several other players on the roster. Villar can play 2B, SS, 3B and CF, and has appeared at three different positions in six games (as well as DH). Berti has similarly manned three different positions thus far. And newly promoted Eddy Alvarez took two different positions over the doubleheader.
Forsythe can play throughout the infield, and the team can plug Magneuris Sierra in any outfield spot. Once they’re back from the IL, Cooper, Harold Ramirez and Sean Rodriguez all have positional flexibility as well.
This defensive versatility allows Mattingly to optimize the lineup on a game-to-game basis.
On Monday, Derek Jeter joined the media via Zoom and said: “We expect to be competitive when we take the field.”
That much has proven true, as the Marlins win streak sits at four games. They’ve taken the first three from Baltimore and will look to complete the series sweep Thursday with Jordan Yamamoto starting.
With 18 players moving to the IL, Miami had to reshape its roster on the fly. The players acquired via waivers and trades, and those signed via free agency, were considered cast-offs. But these players have a new opportunity to breathe life into their MLB careers.
They know they need to perform to stick with the club, beyond when the roster is pared from 30 to 28 Thursday. The players who tested positive for COVID-19 are waiting in the wings for their spots as well.
“I expect them to come back. They expect to come back,” Jeter said. “Who knows what that timeframe is, but our players are looking forward to getting back on the field.”
This internal competition can push this group to excel on the field. And that’s already true within the starting rotation.
“Every time you see this rotation, I really get inspired to see the talent that they have,” Elieser Hernandez said through an interpreter on Wednesday. “I really wanted to join the rotation and help the team. Now that I’m here, that’s what we want to do — win some games.”
Despite in the internal competition, this group, 58 strong at present, has a singular goal: to win.
“A lot of new guys with the same goal,” Aguilar said of the new cast of players. “We’re pulling in the same direction. There are a lot of new faces, but the same goal.”