Marlins Win, but Marte Injury Looms Largeon September 30, 2020 at 11:13 pm

Marlins Win, but Marte Injury Looms Large

The Miami Marlins haven’t had a winning season since 2009, and coming into the year, there was every reason to think that the club’s playoff drought would eventually extend into a second decade. But with an expanded field, key contributions from rookies, and unexpectedly solid play around the infield, Miami slipped past the velvet ropes for the first time in 17 years.

Amusingly, the Marlins are the only franchise in baseball to never lose a playoff series. After a 5-1 victory in Game 1 of the Wild Card round, they’re just one win from extending their perfect record.

The importance of any one playoff game underscores how differently most of us watch them than regular season fare. Granular events — a single at-bat, a pitch even — take on much more resonance. In the regular season, a failure to execute in the early innings will be forgotten minutes later. Watching closely though, you recognize how missed opportunities shape a game every bit as much as the highlights shown on SportsCenter. Viewed under the microscope, baseball becomes a game of chances taken and chances missed.

For the Marlins, the early part of the game was dominated by the latter. Take Garrett Cooper‘s at-bat in the fourth. With one out and a runner on third, Cooper had a great opportunity to plate the game’s first run. On a windy day, against a pitcher with below-average strikeout numbers, this was an opportunity to hunt for a ball he could hit in the air. Instead, he swung at the first pitch and grounded to third. Jesus Aguilar couldn’t advance, and was ultimately stranded after another ground out.

An inning later, the Marlins spurned another chance. With two on and nobody out, light-hitting Chad Wallach was ordered to bunt. The run expectancy table suggests swinging away is the better option here, but it’s very close, and given Wallach’s weak bat and the quality of his opponent, the bunt seemed like a reasonable option. He couldn’t get it down though, and eventually tapped into a rally-killing double play.

For his part, Sandy Alcantara dazzled. The right-hander allowed only three hits while striking out four over 6.2 innings. His upper-90s gas and firm slider contrasted spectacularly with Kyle Hendricks‘ soft-tossing precision in a very watchable pitcher’s duel. The lone blemish against Alcantara was an opposite-field homer from Ian Happ in the bottom of the sixth. With Hendricks also rolling, Alcantara was at risk of becoming a hard-luck loser.

But baseball is a game of percentages. Make Hendricks throw a sufficient number of pitches and he’ll eventually miss a spot; let the Marlins have enough opportunities with runners on base, and they’ll inevitably capitalize. In the seventh, they finally did.

Hendricks, for however much he’s accomplished in his fine career, was given an oddly long leash for such an important and tight game. Today, he was allowed to stay in after passing the 100-pitch mark, and after cycling through Miami’s order three times. One-hundred pitches isn’t and shouldn’t be an automatic hook for a pitcher of his caliber, and he’s worked past that threshold before, just not very often. He hasn’t topped 110 in more than two years, and only cleared 100 four times in this abbreviated season. With two on and one out, sitting at 105 pitches, Hendricks was left in to face Corey Dickerson for a fourth time.

Let’s take a helicopter view at what that matchup looked like in real time. Here are Hendricks’ numbers while facing a lineup for the fourth time:

And some splits for Dickerson:

I get that the Cubs don’t have great lefties in their bullpen. But the decision to keep Hendricks in the game seemed odd in real time, and Chicago got burned in the worst possible way when Dickerson swatted a deep line drive just over the basket in left center.

That dinger chased the starter, and from there the game settled without any further wild swings. Aguilar homered two batters later, and the Cubs only mustered two base runners over the final three frames. The only notable moment the rest of the way came when Starling Marte got plunked in the hand. He grimaced immediately, promptly left the game, and looked miserable as he left the field. Per Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers of ESPN, Marte fractured his left pinkie, though there’s some hope he can continue playing. Hopefully that proves to be true, but if the break keeps him out, Miami has a long row to hoe from here.

On a recent episode of Effectively Wild, Sam Miller argued that there can be no Cinderella stories in the expanded postseason. The reasoning here is that, unlike college basketball, the higher seeds aren’t obscure and likable upstarts from schools we barely recognize but rather known mediocrities. I find Miller’s argument persuasive.

If there’s an exception to the rule though, it’s Miami. This team was supposed to stink. Back in March, the Marlins weren’t anywhere near the pool of long-dormant but suddenly talented teams with realistic playoff aspirations, like the Padres, Reds, or White Sox. And of course, all of that was before COVID-19 knocked them out of action for 10 days and forced them to rely on A-ball arms to navigate the sea of double-headers upon their return.

With each win, the Fish increasingly feel like a plucky underdog deserving of their place in the dance. I don’t know if the rest of the baseball world feels that way quite yet but we’re only one more win from finding out.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *