MIAMI -- Much of the talk following Friday night's 11-2 Marlins victory over the Nationals revolved around manager Don Mattingly's belief in his ballclub. He had held a meeting hours before Miami snapped its four-game skid, explaining why a run was still possible with the Trade Deadline fast approaching.
A main reason for the optimism is the starting pitching. Entering Saturday, Miami's rotation ranks fifth in the Majors in ERA (3.23). Earlier in the week, it was third. The last team to finish in the top three in rotation ERA and not make the postseason was the 2014 Reds. The Marlins have held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 52 of their 75 games in 2021. By doing so, the ballclub is in nearly every contest. Winning streaks are more likely -- though the offense will need to pick things up.
"I think it starts with that," Mattingly said. "Every time we throw a guy out there, they're capable, and it doesn't matter who we're playing. You throw Sandy [Alcantara] out there against anyone, and he's throwing the ball good and executing pitches, you are going to be in that game and have a good chance to win. You feel the same way with Pablo [López], you feel the same way with Trevor [Rogers]. Obviously the other two -- we haven't had Sixto [Sánchez] all year long, we haven't had Elieser [Hernandez]. We have to obviously fill those spots, and get that going, and knowing that at some point you're probably going to get guys back in this season. When you have that type of pitching, you're capable of going on a roll. I just know that I've seen it in the past. It's a possibility."
It's plausible, though rare. The Marlins (32-43) entered Saturday nine games back in the National League East. Below are examples of turnarounds, courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau.
Most recent team to make postseason after being 11 games under .500, at least 75 games in:
1984 Royals were 40-51 and came back to win division
Most recent teams to make postseason after being 9+ games back, at least 75 games in:
2011 Cardinals (9 1/2 back after 134 games) were as far as 10 1/2 back in NL Central on Sept. 5, earned Wild Card
2011 Rays (9 back through 138 games) were as far as 10 1/2 back in AL East on Sept. 6, earned WC
Most total games under .500 after 75+ games in before making postseason:
1978 Yankees were 14 back in the division (90 games in on July 19)
Most total games back in division after 75+ games in before making postseason:
1973 Mets were 53-66 on Aug. 17
The latter in particular shares some parallels with the 2021 Marlins. The Mets went 82-79 after going 35-46 through their first 81 games. They finished 34-19 and took advantage of a mediocre NL East playing sub-.500 ball.
This season alone, the A's, Rays and Astros have had winning streaks of 10 or more games. Before its streak was snapped, Houston had a 1.80 ERA. In both the 2018 and '19 seasons, there also were three 10-plus game streaks before the end of June.
"Those rolls get going, and the streaks have been incredible," Mattingly said. "We're capable of rolling off 10 in a row. And I just believe that, and again I could be wrong, but I believe it, and I want them to hear it. Because I'm not a guy that's going to sit there and get way high if we're playing good, and I'm not going to get low when we're not playing good. I still believe what I see what I know in my heart. So I just want them to hear it."
Mixing in Cooper
Cooper, who missed 16 days with a lumbar strain and appeared in two rehab games, played all nine innings for the first time on Friday. It would've been nice to have his bat in Saturday's lineup against southpaw Patrick Corbin: Cooper is slashing .288/.339/.500 with an .839 OPS in 52 at-bats vs. lefties in 2021.
But even with Corey Dickerson sidelined, expect there to be a rotation to get Cooper into games much like earlier in the season. He can spell first baseman Jesús Aguilar or right fielder Adam Duvall. In instances when prospect Jesús Sánchez doesn't start, Duvall can move to left and Cooper can slot into right.
"It'll be a little bit of a juggling act I think," Mattingly said. "Usually after a rehab, we always try to plan like if they play a couple of days, making sure they get a breather before they start. We really felt like Agui needed a day yesterday, so we went ahead and went with Coop, knowing we'd have to give him today, even though he obviously had a big night last night. But we think that's the best thing for his body, so we'll get recovery from that. We'll do what we've done in the past, and that's still mix and match. Give Duvy a day, give Agui days. If Coop's swinging like that, it's hard to get him out of there. We'll just have to figure it out. That does leave us a guy on the bench there every day that you know is dangerous."