The Miami Marlins opened the 2021 MLB season last week with a tough tilt against the defending American League Champions. Although they dropped their opening series 1-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays, there remains a great deal of optimism surround the club.
Marlins Starters Shine, Bullpen Struggles
Alcantara’s Opening Day effort put him among some of the Marlins’ all-time greats. He became just the third Marlins Opening Day starter to pitch at least six innings and not allow a run (Kevin Brown, 1997; Josh Beckett, 2005).
Alcantara struck out seven and scattered two hits, with two walks two batters and one hit batsman. He topped out at 98.7 mph, leaning primarily on his sinker. His changeup slotted in at 92.8 mph, with his developing slider touching 91.3 mph.
Lopez, meanwhile, is coming off a stellar season-opening effort of his own. He gave up two hits and two walks over five scoreless innings, striking out four and throwing 51 of 77 pitches for strikes.
Miami’s revamped bullpen, though, echoed some of the struggled last year’s group was saddled with. The Rays struck first on Opening Day, with Austin Meadows connecting on a game-winning home run off Yimi Garcia.
Both Bass and Marlins manager Don Mattingly admitted via Zoom that the issues stemmed from execution. Bass noted his two-seam fastball “leaked over the middle” and he didn’t execute his splitter to Wendle.
“It’s usually guys missing balls in areas that you don’t want to be in and you end up paying for it,” Mattingly said on Zoom Friday. “It’s just getting better execution next time.”
“Not the way I wanted to start my season by any means,” Bass said, “but I know I want to get things right. I want to come out stronger tomorrow.”
To his credit, Bass came out Saturday and pitched a clean ninth. It wasn’t a Save Opportunity, but it was good to see.
Slumbering Offense Wakes Up on Saturday
Bass’s second appearance wasn’t a save chance because Miami’s offense finally woke up. The team suffered through a shutout on Opening Day and didn’t register their first run until the seventh inning of Game 2. That start seems worrisome considering the team’s offensive struggles in 2020.
But after posting four runs late on Friday, the offense broke through for 12 runs Saturday. While they scored zero through the season’s first 15 innings, they put up 16 runs over the next 11 innings.
Saturday, the top four hitters in Miami’s lineup produced nine runs scored, nine hits (five extra-base), four walks and six RBI.
Starling Marte bounced back from a 0-for-4, four strikeout Opening Day, to go 7-for-10 with a double, a triple and three runs scored.
Garrett Cooper went 0-for-4 in his first start. He answered that with a 3-for-5 performance Saturday, hitting the team’s first homer of the season, and adding a double and three RBI.
Miguel Rojas came up with the clutch hit on Friday, driving in go-ahead runs in the seventh. Saturday, he went 1-for-2 with three walks and three runs scored.
Miami’s main offseason addition on offense, Adam Duvall, connected on his first homer Saturday after starting the season 0-for-8 with three strikeouts.
The Marlins have swiped a league-leading six bases through three games, picking up where they left off last season. Jazz Chisholm leads the club with two steals thus far.
Jazz Chisholm, a Star in the Making
Perhaps the most exciting development of Miami’s opening series was the play of Chisholm. The electric second baseman sparked the team’s offense on Friday. His two-out triple led to the first run of the season.
Despite registering only two hits over the three games, Chisholm saw the ball well. He rocketed lineouts on Opening Day before picking up his first hit. On Saturday, he walked twice and created havoc on the basepaths, stealing two bags before scoring on a short sac-fly.
His two walks in 12 plate appearances thus far demonstrates improved patience, as he walked just five times over 62 plate appearances with the club last season.
Starting Pitching Depth To Be Tested Immediately
Sure, the Marlins were a few bad pitches away from at least a 2-1 record to start, but that’s not the bad news. The worst take away from the opening series was the loss of starter Elieser Hernandez.
The 25-year-old right hander exited Saturday night’s game after just 34 pitches. The team reported right biceps tendon inflammation. This comes after the Marlins announced earlier in the week that Sixto Sanchez was pulled from an alternate site start with slight shoulder discomfort, further delaying the top prospect’s season debut.
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These developments will test Miami’s starting pitching depth much earlier than the team had hoped.
The most likely candidates for a call-up are Nick Neidert and Daniel Castano. Neidert pitched 2.1 innings for the Marlins in 2020 before being sidelined with COVID. He returned for three appearances in September and got roughed up for five runs in one two-inning outing versus the Washington Nationals. He impressed this Spring, though.
Castano pitched well in 2020, making three starts and five total appearances. He went 1-2 with a 3.03 ERA, picking up his first career win in Miami’s final game of the regular season last year.
Another option is Braxton Garrett, who made two starts for the Marlins in 2020. The 23-yer-old lefty went 1-1 with a 5.87 ERA but got touched up for three homers in 7.2 IP. He threw just four innings of work this Spring before being optioned.
The final option for Miami might be to bring in a veteran starter to fill the void. The team attempted to do this with Gio Gonzalez, but the 35-year-old opted for retirement after an ineffective Spring.
Cardinals Coming to Town
In 2020, the St Louis Cardinals faced a similarly difficult situation with COVID-19 as the Marlins. They overcame those difficulties to make the postseason, like Miami, but lost to the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card round.
This offseason, the Cardinals stole Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies to solidify third base. St Louis already sports a big-time player at first, Paul Goldschmidt, and they’re hoping for a bounce back season from Arenado.
The five-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger, Arenado managed just eight home runs and 26 RBI over 46 games in 2020. The Cards hope he’ll get closer to his career averages of 29 home runs, 89 RBI and slash .293/.349/.541.
St. Louis’s offense is also seeking the further development of their young outfield talents, Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill. They come to Miami after starting their season in Cincinnati, where the Reds dominated the three-game tilt, scoring 27 runs in the series en route to two wins.
The Marlins did not face St. Louis in 2020, thanks to MLB’s adjusted schedule to combat COVID-19 spread. In 2019, Miami went 3-4 against the Cardinals. They’re 81-118 all-time against St. Louis and haven’t won a season series against the class of the NL Central since 4-3 mark in 2016.
This season, the Cardinals have a much-improved offense, with some serious power, but there are legitimate questions in their rotation. The Marlins will catch the back end of St. Louis’s starting staff, including a pair of replacement starters, before facing their ace in the series finale.
Projected Rotation for Cardinals series
Monday: Trevor Rogers (0-0) v Daniel Ponce de Leon (0-0)
Rogers will make his season debut at loanDepot park after earning his spot in the rotation with a solid Spring. He led the Grapefruit League with 29 strikeouts and came in second overall behind the White Sox’s Lucas Giolito’s 30.
Promoted straight from Double-A, Rogers posted uneven results over his seven starts in 2020. The strikeout numbers were solid (12.5 K/9 rate), but he allowed an excess of baserunners (1.61 WHIP) and runs (6.11 ERA). He bulked up some before Spring and worked on improving his command, which will be key.
Ponce de Leon struggled with command this Spring, issuing 13 walks over 17 Grapefruit League innings. He walked six batters over 4.1 IP in his final Spring start. In 2020, he posted a 4.96 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts). He has one career start versus Miami, surrendering just two hits over 6.0 IP in a 2-1 win.
The Marlins are facing Ponce de Leon and John Gant because of Miles Mikolas’ right shoulder injury and the back tightness that slowed Kwang Hyun Kim’s progression this Spring.
Tuesday: Sandy Alcantara (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs John Gant (0-0)
Alcantara was spectacular on Opening Day and will get his second start against a solid St. Louis lineup. He’s 0-1 in his versus his former club, losing his only career start against them, giving up four runs in 5.0 IP back in 2019.
He’ll face Gant, who’s moved into the starting rotation for the Cardinals for the first time since 2018, when he went 5-6 with a 3.61 ERA in 19 starts. Gant pitched well this Spring, striking out 13 over 14.1 IP. He was solid out of the ‘pen over the last two seasons and made four appearances against the Marlins in 2019, giving up just one run over 5.0 IP. His last start against the Marlins came in 2018, a win where he allowed just one run and four strikeouts over 6.0 IP.
Wednesday: Pablo Lopez (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs Jack Flaherty (0-0, 12.46 ERA)
Coming off of a solid 2019 season, Flaherty, St Louis’s 25-year-old ace, posted a pedestrian 4.91 ERA over nine starts in 2020. The 2021 season didn’t start like he wanted though, as he surrendered six earned runs over 4.1 innings pitched. Flaherty gave up three doubles, two home runs, two walks and one hits batsmen. Flaherty is 0-2 in his two career starts versus the Marlins, surrendering nine runs over 12 IP.
Lopez is 0-1 versus the Cardinals, losing his only career start against them back during his rookie campaign in 2018. He gave up two runs in a 2-3 loss in what was just his seventh career start.