Marlins' inexperienced offense comes up short again

September 4th, 2022

ATLANTA -- A historically bad Marlins lineup managed the nearly impossible in Saturday’s ninth inning, handing Braves closer Kenley Jansen a blown save for the first time in eight chances against them this season.

With the bases loaded and nobody out, Jerar Encarnacion jumped on a first-pitch cutter for a game-tying sacrifice fly to right. But that was all from Miami, repeating a season-long trend in a 2-1 walk-off loss at Truist Park for a season-high-tying sixth straight defeat.

Since July 15, the Marlins have scored 100 runs in 44 games. Every other team in the Majors has scored at least 140 during that span. Since the introduction of the designated hitter in 1973, they are the only club to score 100 runs or fewer over a 44-game span in a single season.

How has it gotten to this point?

1. Letting the kids play
Top 30 prospects JJ Bleday, Peyton Burdick and Encarnacion as well as Minor League Rule 5 Draft pick Charles Leblanc and first baseman Lewin Díaz are getting extended looks. Not helping matters is facing contending clubs on a daily basis.

Inexperienced bats means varying levels of success in the Majors.

Bleday: .182/.298/.364 with 8 2B, 1 3B and 4 HR in 37 games
Burdick: .177/.270/.304 with 4 2B and 2 HR in 25 games
Encarnacion: .209/.222/.419 with 3 2B and 2 HR in 14 games
Leblanc: .300/.333/.438 with 5 2B and 2 HR in 25 games
Díaz: .167/.236/.240 with 4 2B and 1 HR in 32 games (in 2022)

“I don't have any magic for guys not feeling good if they're not going good,” manager Don Mattingly said. “But obviously, we have young guys that our coaches are going to keep talking to, give them an understanding of where they're at and how do we get better, and basically try to celebrate any kind of small victories that we have within what they're doing and their growth and move forward. There's no real magic act to it. It's more about just talking with these guys and making sure they understand where they're at.”

2. Sidelined run producers
Miami signed free-agent outfielders Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García to provide sustenance in the middle of the order. They have combined for 20 homers and 64 RBIs. Soler, who has been out since July 22 with back trouble, has appeared in just 72 of the club’s 132 games. After a disappointing beginning to his Marlins tenure (67 OPS+), García has been dealing with a left hamstring strain since Aug. 2. He has played in 88 games.

Most important of all is Jazz Chisholm Jr., voted in by the fans as the National League’s starter at second base for the All-Star Game. Despite not playing since June 28, Chisholm still ranks first on the club in homers (14) and RBIs (45) following Jesús Aguilar’s departure.

The likes of Joey Wendle, Jon Berti, Brian Anderson and Miguel Rojas serve as complementary pieces. They aren’t expected to carry an offense, especially one that is struggling. Wendle, Berti and Anderson also have missed substantial time with injuries.

“The biggest challenge honestly has been keeping guys healthy,” Mattingly said pregame Friday. “That really seems to have been our biggest issue again. … Depth is a big issue for teams like us. Staying healthy is a big thing. Depth is always a big thing, because you see it over the course of the year, you're going to need it. And if you don't, your guys that are coming and filling in aren't keeping up with the rest of it. Then it's hard to sustain.”

So what can be done to turn the tide?

Miami needs to look no further than the other dugout. Atlanta’s lineup is filled with homegrown talent in Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Vaughn Grissom and William Contreras.

"They're young and aggressive,” ace Sandy Alcantara said following Friday’s loss. “I think they all want to swing the bat, especially when they have power like that.”

The Marlins won’t be able to outbid bigger markets, so they must develop batters -- or acquire them via trades for pitching. By playing their younger guys to close out the season, they are evaluating what they have for 2023 and beyond.

The early returns aren’t favorable, but immediate success in the Majors is no guarantee. Perhaps Encarnacion, who homered in Friday’s opener, could be one of those dudes.

“I'm very grateful for the opportunity,” Encarnacion said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “I'm grateful for God giving me this opportunity of being here. I just keep working hard and just try to perform. Every time I get those opportunities, I would like to perform.”