Uncertain but optimistic, Marlins look to 2023
Rookies pave way to Game 162 win as vets manage the Miami club
MIAMI -- Asking the question, “What if?” is a dangerous game to play, but it’s an unavoidable one when looking back on the 2022 Marlins.
Following an extended lockout, the big league squad convened at the Spring Training complex in Jupiter, Fla., with hopes of keeping pace in the ultra competitive National League East. Seven months later, the Braves (101-61), Mets (101-61) and Phillies (87-75) secured postseason berths, while the fourth-place Marlins (69-93) lost just two fewer games than in 2021.
Rather than battling through the organization’s second playoff run in the past three seasons, Miami settled for spoiling Milwaukee’s shot at an NL Wild Card and New York’s chance at a division crown, though it watched as Atlanta celebrated its fifth consecutive NL East title.
“It makes you wonder a little bit, if we could've stayed healthy, would we have been in a better spot to at least fight for a Wild Card?” manager Don Mattingly said earlier in the week. “I'm not sure we were a 100-win club, but I do think we would have been in a better spot to be fighting down this last week with Milwaukee, with Philly, San Diego -- in that same type of realm of being at least in the mix.”
Wednesday’s 12-9 victory over the Braves at loanDepot park felt like the last day of school. Exams were over. Yearbooks were being signed. The outcome of the game held little importance.
Mattingly, who felt a new voice was needed at the helm after his seven-year tenure, upheld tradition -- outside of 2020 when the club snapped a 16-year playoff drought -- by handing the reins over to a Marlins veteran as player-manager. With Miguel Rojas undergoing right wrist surgery, Jacob Stallings received the honor. Joey Wendle acted as bench coach, Pablo López as pitching coach and Avisaíl García and Brian Anderson split hitting-coach duties.
While the Braves sat nearly all of their starters, the Marlins fielded an all-kid lineup outside of MLB stolen-base champion Jon Berti. Elieser Hernandez, who was demoted twice this season, got the nod on the mound with ace Sandy Alcantara shut down over the weekend after an MLB-high 228 2/3 innings. Also relegated to spectator status were All-Stars Jazz Chisholm Jr. (back/knee) and Garrett Cooper (pinkie) as well as offseason acquisitions Jorge Soler (back) and García.
Stallings’ one goal was for the players to feel good about the way their season ended. That happened with a season-high-tying run total at home, including two-run shots from rookies Nick Fortes and Peyton Burdick.
“That was my first time playing 162 games in a baseball season, so it's been a long season for sure,” said Burdick, who collected three hits and four RBIs. “I've definitely learned the most as a baseball player this season. It definitely does feel like school's out a little bit. When you're a little kid, you get out of school and you're crazy for summer, but I'm just excited to be able to relax for a little bit and then get to work and figure some stuff out this offseason.”
Much is uncertain moving forward. The baseball operations department has begun restructuring, and the remainder of Mattingly’s coaching staff doesn’t yet know its future. The same could be said about some of the players.
Entering the 2022 finale, Miami’s starting pitching posted a 12.3 WAR -- 12th in MLB. Nine of the teams with better numbers are headed to the playoffs. But the lack of offense (88 wRC+, 25th in MLB) -- whether it be due to injury or underperformance -- was too much to overcome, especially with the fourth-worst second-half winning percentage (.366).
Following the victory, Mattingly took his time in the handshake line to give each of his players a hug. Closer Dylan Floro handed him the game ball. Mattingly’s wife and son were there to greet him afterwards. In the clubhouse postgame, players finished packing their lockers and began going their separate ways.
“We were just missing so many key pieces at different times and just never really felt like we were able to get in a groove,” said Stallings, who was acquired in a trade with the Pirates last November. “We were right there for a long time, right around .500 competing for the Wild Card spot. We were right there at the Trade Deadline, and then just felt like everybody got hurt on that road trip and that kind of just did us in.
"I'm certainly optimistic. Any time we have the arms that we have, I mean, I'd put our starting rotation up against anybody -- and they're all so young, too, so they're just going to get better. I think guys are definitely optimistic.”