Marlins haunted by missed opportunities

May 22nd, 2022

MIAMI -- Saturday had all the makings of a magically cinematic ending. Cuban Heritage Celebration kicked off Legacy Saturday’s return to loanDepot park in 2022. With one swing of the bat, the Cuban-born Jorge Soler could hand the Marlins their first walk-off victory of the season.

“Sometimes I guess the movies don't all end with good endings, right?” manager Don Mattingly said.

Soler, who had already singled and doubled, struck out with a pair of runners in scoring position to seal Miami’s 4-3 loss to Atlanta. It was the club’s MLB-high 13th one-run loss. Sure, that means the Marlins are more often than not within striking distance. But it also means everything gets magnified -- from decisions to execution.

Forcing the issue
In a scoreless ballgame in the fourth, Jesús Sánchez tripled with one out. Stepping to the plate was contact hitter Bryan De La Cruz.

Miami has had trouble consistently scoring runs (plating three or fewer runs in 54% of its games this season), and it was more of the same with Kyle Wright pitching for Atlanta. With that in mind, Mattingly called for Sánchez to run on contact, making the ensuing 11 seconds a wild ride.

With the infield in, De La Cruz sent a hard-hit grounder to shortstop Dansby Swanson, who threw home. As Sánchez put on the brakes and retreated, catcher William Contreras threw to third baseman Austin Riley, who tagged out Sánchez. The pickle lasted for so little time that Swanson alerted Riley to throw over to first baseman Matt Olson, with De La Cruz straying too far. Olson threw to second baseman Ozzie Albies, who tagged a sliding De La Cruz well in front of the bag.

Just your typical inning-ending 6-2-5-3-4 double play.

“We're going to try to score a run,” Mattingly said. “Where we're at in the order, we're taking a chance there. Most of the time, if it is a ball like that, usually you can stay in the rundown long enough to get the guy to second, and you're still in scoring position. For us, in our minds, we're taking a chance to score and feel like we're going to be able to get that guy to second.”

Turning to the bullpen
Elieser Hernandez’s struggles this season have been well-documented. Entering Saturday, his 6.15 ERA ranked seventh worst among 117 pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. His 11 homers allowed are third most in MLB.

But Hernandez looked sharp, especially his slider, from the get-go. He retired eight of the first nine batters he faced. His lone blemish came on Contreras’ solo homer in the fifth.

“I think this is a step that I've been working to do,” Hernandez said via an interpreter. “I will continue to work with the pitching coach and trying to get better as I go along.”

Just like it’s no secret the Marlins haven’t done well in one-run games, the same could be said for Hernandez during the third time through the order.

His career numbers:

• First time: .233/.317/.432
• Second time: .237/.277/.507
• Third time: .336/.405/.794

With the top of the order due up in the sixth, Mattingly turned to the bullpen. He said the decision was a mix of those stats and building Hernandez’s confidence.

Tanner Scott walked Ronald Acuña Jr., who advanced to second on a groundout, stole third and scored on Marcell Ozuna’s single. Three batters later, Adam Duvall produced an RBI single off Dylan Floro to make it 3-0.

Missing the timely knock

One reason for Miami’s offensive inconsistency lies in its situational hitting. The club’s .681 OPS with runners in scoring position ranks 22nd in the Majors, while its groundout/airout 0.88 ratio is 20th.

Trailing 3-0 in the sixth, Soler drove in Garrett Cooper with a double. Avisaíl García did a nice job moving Soler over to third with a flyout to right in foul territory, but Brian Anderson lined a ball with home run distance just foul. Two pitches later, he struck out swinging. Sánchez did the same.

Down 4-1, Cooper and Soler opened the eighth with consecutive singles to put runners on the corners. García struck out, and Anderson grounded into an RBI forceout to erase the chance of a big inning.

“We had chances again, and it's not something you want to keep talking about, but you have some opportunities,” Mattingly said. “We've talked about this a lot. It sounds a little bit like a broken record. But we've got to find a way to push those runs across when we get opportunities. It's really been a theme in general so far.”