Bullpen comes up big in finale win over Nats

Arraez's return to leadoff spot, Soler's 35th homer help key victory

August 27th, 2023

MIAMI -- There was a familiar face back atop the Marlins’ lineup for the series finale against the Nationals on Sunday. Second baseman , who leads the Majors in batting average (.350), made his first start hitting leadoff since Aug. 6 in Texas.

Arraez’s skills getting on base, combined with Jorge Soler’s power in the No. 2 slot and a well-spun bullpen game from the relief corps, powered Miami to a 2-1 win over Washington at loanDepot park as the Marlins avoided the sweep to move back above .500 (66-65).

The Marlins are well aware they’re in the thick of a tight race for a National League Wild Card spot. Miami sits three games behind Arizona (69-62) for the third spot, 1 1/2 games behind Cincinnati (68-64) and one game behind San Francisco (66-63), with the Giants in action on Sunday night.

If a tiebreaker is needed to determine a Wild Card spot, it first goes to head-to-head matchups, then to divisional records. The Marlins won their season series over the D-backs (4-2) and split their series with the Reds (3-3) and the Giants (3-3).

As Miami heads into an off-day on Monday before hosting Tampa Bay for two games, here are some takeaways from the finale vs. Washington.

Will the Marlins stick with Arraez up top?
The leadoff spot has been a malleable position for the Marlins this season. Manager Skip Schumaker likes Arraez at the top -- it’s where Arraez does his best work, getting on base and setting up Miami’s power bats for RBIs -- but he also likes to use the No. 1 spot as a tool to get his hitters back in a groove.

That’s why Arraez was pulled from leadoff earlier this month -- to get Soler back swinging. It’s also why Jazz Chisholm Jr. has seen some time atop the order over the past few games. But while Arraez has been adamant he’s happy to hit wherever the Marlins want him, his bat also has quieted to some degree in the second half.

“It feels like [Soler’s] back, obviously, and so to maybe kick-start that, I think you'll see Soli at the top of the order again,” Schumaker said. “But talking with Luis and trying to jump-start him again -- he feels good somewhere in the top of the order. He's always said, 'I'll hit wherever you put me,' but he's been really successful at the top of the lineup. … We were really good when he was leading off.”

“So amazing,” Arraez said. “I missed my spot there. But this is baseball, you know? So [Skip] just tried to put me in second, third, and then let's see if we got more RBIs. But I'm happy we won today, and then I hope we continue to win.”

The bullpen is where it’s at
Without ’s key four-plus relief innings, the Marlins might not have won. But the impact of the rest of the bullpen on Sunday cannot be overstated. Between JT Chargois’ scoreless opening inning (he allowed just one hit and struck out one) and a quartet of relievers coming through behind Hoeing to keep the Nationals off the board -- despite Washington threatening in the top of the ninth -- the Marlins’ bullpen showed just how dominant it can be.

Steven Okert, A.J. Puk, Andrew Nardi and Tanner Scott -- who likely will get more opportunities to close games -- helped shut the door on the Nats. When Scott allowed a pair of hits with one out in the ninth, it seemed Washington might have a chance to eke out a win. But the left-hander induced a game-ending 5-4-3 double play to seal the deal.

“I think you'll probably see Tanner there in the ninth inning [a lot],” Schumaker said. “It's not like you're not going to see [David] Robertson anymore -- I don't want you to think that. We still have a lot of confidence in him.”

“It's clear that we're in a playoff race right now,” Hoeing said. “So to have all the bullpen guys throwing well right now is huge coming into this last month of the season. … I think today being a bullpen day just shows how deep our bullpen is and how effective every guy that comes in there is.”

Room to improve vs. starters
The big message from the first two games of the series was that the Marlins needed to attack opponents’ starters more effectively. While Soler did just that, hitting his 35th long ball and MLB-leading 19th go-ahead homer of the season off Trevor Williams in the third inning, it almost wasn’t enough.

“Obviously, the home run was huge,” Schumaker said. “[But] we have to score more runs so it's not one-run games. Because we're playing with fire in the ninth inning. And as good as we've been in one-run games, we can't keep doing that.”