After completing a 4-2 road trip, the Miami Marlins (7-8) maintained their momentum by taking 2-of-3 versus the San Francisco Giants. An exciting win Friday preceded a wild walk-off win on Saturday.
But it wasn’t all good news this weekend, as the Marlins couldn’t secure the sweep Sunday and saw their star centerfielder leave with an apparent injury. Despite missing the opportunity to sweep, and the potential injury, several positives stood out.
Marlins fans clamored throughout the offseason for an upgrade at catcher. Jorge Alfaro, the team’s primary starter, had been replaced by backup Chad Wallach in the playoffs after a lackluster 2020 season. His potential, though, kept him on the roster and earned him another turn at the job.
Alfaro spent the offseason in Miami, working to improve the apparent deficiencies in his game, particularly on defense. But as 2021 opened, his offense took a step back. Couple the early slump with a hamstring injury, and Alfaro struggled to start the new campaign.
Saturday provided the first real positive signs for the 23-year-old backstop. He’s been seeing the ball well, often making solid contact, but this weekend he finally found results. Alfaro stood as the hero Saturday, connecting on a game-tying single in the ninth, then a game-winning double in the tenth. He also came through with a clutch defensive play to keep Miami’s deficit at one in the top half of the 10th inning.
“The road will display a lot of obstacles,” Alfaro relayed through an interpreter. “You’ve got to go through those obstacles, and that’s pretty much how I felt coming back again.
“The mentality right now is no quitting. Quitting is not an option, it’s not a choice. Just got to go out there, fight for every game, compete and just try to get the win.”
Alfaro’s performance provided the Marlins lineup with a much-needed lift, especially after the team’s futility in bases loaded situations. If he can become a consistent offensive threat, that will more than make up for his perceived defensive shortcomings.
“That was big for Jorge,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “You’re working and everybody knows you’re working and guys trust you. But you want to come through. He does it twice tonight, not once but twice. And made a nice play in the extra innings on the bunt, too. It’s just nice. Jorgie’s been working. Obviously been a little uneven because of the leg, but to see him get that hit there was such a good feeling for him and his teammates to feel like you’re part of it and you’re pulling your share of the weight.”
Alfaro’s clutch double wasn’t the only positive this weekend. The bullpen also saw improved performances from a pair of pitchers.
Zach Pop provided a glimpse at his potential with his outing on Saturday. The Rule-5 acquisition bounced back from a blown save in his last appearance to shut down the Giants. Pop entered in the eighth innings with Miami trailing by two. He proceeded to strikeout the side in what was far-and-away his best performance at the MLB level.
It’ll be important to see Pop string together several solid outings before the Marlins start to feel secure with their hard-throwing righty.
Anthony Bass, meanwhile, has put together several solid outings in the wake of losing his hold on the closer role. Bass’s ERA ballooned to 23.14 after a disastrous blown save in New York, but in his four appearances since then, he hasn’t allowed a run. Over 3.2 IP, he’s allowed one hit and one hit-by-pitch. He pitched a clean eighth inning on Friday and registered his first win with the Marlins.
Negatives for the Marlins
Despite the two wins in this series, the Marlins offense could have done much more. Over the three-game set, Miami stranded 24 runners on base, including going scoreless through three bases-loaded situations Saturday. For the series, Miami managed to go 6-for-24 with runners-in-scoring-position.
The troubling tendency of relievers surrendering big flies also reared its ugly head.
Richard Bleier gave up a go-ahead three-run homer on Saturday and would have taken the loss if not for Alfaro’s heroics. Marlins relievers have surrendered an NL-leading 11 home runs this season (2nd-most in MLB) and are tied for the most hit-batsmen (8). Bleier is responsible for four of the 11 homers so far, after not allowing any in 2020. If this team is going to legitimately compete for a postseason spot, this troubling trend will have to be reversed.
Bullpen homers weren’t the most troubling aspect of this series though. In his ninth inning at-bat, Starling Marte seemingly hurt himself with a swing. The Marlins star centerfielder grimaced as he paced around the plate following the swing. He stood in for another pitch before Mattingly and the trainer pulled him from the game.
‘No Replacement’ for Marte with Marlins
The team did not provide a specific update on Marte’s injury after the game, but Mattingly mentioned Marte’s removal came as a precaution. Although the 32-year-old tried to convince his manager to let him complete the at-bat, Mattingly wasn’t having it. The team announced on Monday that Marte sustained a non-displaced fracture in his 12th rib (left side). He’s headed for the IL and Miami will make a corresponding roster move ahead of Tuesday’s game.
“We don’t have a replacement for [him],” Mattingly said during the postgame Zoom. “He’s a big part of what we do. He’s that guy, that cog in the offense, defense, on the bases.”
Marte’s hitting .316 with an OPS of .912 this season. His three-run homer Friday proved to be the game-winner and he remains a catalyst for this offense. Any extended absence on his part will be felt.
“But at the end of the day, if it is whatever amount of time, somebody steps in and does what they do, and everybody else around him has to continue to go,” Mattingly said.
Up Next: Baltimore Orioles (7-9)
The Baltimore Orioles come to town for a quick two-game tilt starting Tuesday. The Marlins faced Baltimore four times in 2020, their first opponent coming out of the extended COVID-19 quarantine. Miami swept the 4-game set and started their ascent to the team’s first playoff berth in 17 years.
Although the Orioles enter this series having lost seven of their last 10 games, Baltimore took two of three against the Texas Rangers this weekend. Miami will miss Orioles ace John Means’ turn in the rotation, and should face off against a familiar foe in Matt Harvey.
Harvey, a long-time member of the New York Mets, sports 11 career starts against the Marlins. He holds a 2-4 record with a 4.31 ERA and 64 strikeouts versus the Fish. The Dark Knight has allowed at least two earned runs in each start this season and has yet to pitch beyond the fifth inning.
On Wednesday, the Marlins should see lefty Bruce Zimmerman. The 26-year-old Baltimore native sports a 1-1 record so far with a 4.24 ERA. He’s made three starts and has served up four homers and five walks over that span with just 11 strikeouts over 17 IP.
Baltimore’s offense checks in at 21st overall with a 4.0 runs-per-game average. They’re 19th in combined batting average (.221) and 28th in OPS (.643). Centerfielder Cedric Mullins stands as the Orioles top offensive threat early on, leading team in batting (.355) and OPS (.928).