Miami's tough weekend makes for disappointing 2nd-half start 

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BALTIMORE -- Three games in, the Marlins’ second half is not playing out much like their first. After enjoying one of the most successful first halves in franchise history, Miami opened the second being swept by the Orioles, by virtue of Sunday’s 5-4 defeat at Camden Yards.

With Sunday’s defeat, the Marlins suffered their first sweep at the hands of a team other than the Braves this season, and dropped their eighth game in 13 tries after winning 23 of their previous 31. Here are three takeaways from their disappointing weekend in the Charm City:

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Why did Okert open?
After dropping the first two games of the series, the Marlins opted for a bullpen day in Sunday’s finale rather than start Jesús Luzardo or the recently-reinstated Johnny Cueto, despite both being on regular rest. The results were less than ideal.

Lefty reliever Steven Okert, opening less than 18 hours after recording four outs on 18 pitches Saturday night, allowed hits to the first four batters he faced, three for extra bases. By the time bulk reliever George Soriano entered with one out in the first inning, the Marlins were already down three runs.

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Though Cueto ultimately impressed with three scoreless innings of long relief in his first appearance since April 3, the Marlins on Sunday never recovered.

“They came out ready,” Okert said. “ What’s the difference [between opening and] in another hour, coming out of the ‘pen? I’ve done it plenty of times, nights and days, so it was nothing too weird.”

Still, the bullpen day was a curious decision given Miami’s pitching struggles of late. The bedrock of their success in the first half, the Marlins’ rotation owns a 5.59 ERA over its past 13 games (27th in MLB). Their bullpen has a 4.82 ERA in that stretch (20th in MLB).

That said, help is on the way
The Marlins’ rotation is set to receive a boost when the team activates right-hander Edward Cabrera this week in St. Louis, likely to make his first start since June 13 on Tuesday against the Cardinals. Cabrera missed over a month due to a right shoulder impingement and blister issues, but he is confident he’s ready to move past those concerns after testing his arm in a simulated game over the All-Star break.

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“I’m happy to be back with this group, and I know I can help,” Cabrera said through team translator Luis Durante Jr. “All we have to do is stay together and united. That’s one of the keys to our success. We are very united, all together, doing what we all have to do to get that success we aspire to.”

With Cabrera on the mend and Cueto back on the active roster (albeit in the bullpen), the Marlins’ rotation is nearly back to full strength. The last missing piece, southpaw Trevor Rogers, however, remains far from a potential return. His prolonged absence could put the Marlins in the market for pitching help if they buy at the Trade Deadline as expected.

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Or they can stand pat and re-insert Cueto into the rotation after he looked like his old self Sunday. Cueto reached 93.7 mph with his fastball and held the O’s to two baserunners in three scoreless innings.

“Overall, really encouraging outing,” manager Skip Schumaker said. “We hope he builds off of it.”

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Said Cueto: “I feel very loose, just like always. … There is a lot of baseball left. I gotta go out there, take the ball and help the team any way that I can.”

A quiet weekend at the plate
The Marlins were a below-average offensive team in the NL in the first half in terms of run production and power. And while that’s salvageable when the pitching is on point, this weekend revealed some vulnerability when Miami gets outpitched.

The Marlins were kept extremely quiet Sunday by Kyle Bradish before making things interesting with four runs in the ninth, falling short when Luis Arraez stranded the tying run on second. With that late outburst, the Marlins finished the series 24-for-103 (.233) at the plate. But take away Arraez’s four-hit night Saturday, and Miami hit .204 as a team with just one homer over the three-game set: Jorge Soler’s 24th of the season in Friday’s opener.

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Sunday’s near-comeback masked what was an otherwise dormant day at the plate and a fairly punchless weekend against Baltimore pitching. The Marlins struck out 22 times and walked just six while losing two one-run games -- the type of contest Miami excelled at in the first half.

“That’s a good team,” Schumaker said. “We had the lead a few times, so you can look at a number of things that happened, for why we got swept.”

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