Marlins out to show they're NL East contenders

April 17th, 2022

MIAMI -- "Today's a good day to win a series."

Marlins manager Don Mattingly’s message to his ballclub has been not to settle for four-game splits when a victory is there for the taking. Miami did just that in Sunday afternoon's 11-3 win over Philadelphia at loanDepot park. Right-hander Elieser Hernandez recorded a quality start, while four batters collected multiple RBIs and all nine scored at least one run.

The National League East is expected to be one of the most highly contested divisions in the Majors. The Braves, Mets and Phillies are considered the contenders, but the Marlins believe they should be mentioned in that group. Despite being in rebuild mode, the Juan Soto-led Nationals even captured two of three from the Braves earlier in the week.

MLB’s new schedule format that includes series against all other 29 teams doesn’t go into effect until next season, so Miami will face each NL East club 19 times in 2022. This weekend marked the Marlins' first test, and they passed with flying colors. Then again, they have been a thorn in the Phillies' side recently, posting winning records against them in each of the last three years. Miami had losing records against the other NL East teams in ‘21, but they closed the gap compared to previous seasons.

"That's a lot of games with teams that are going to be playing each other," Mattingly said. "You know no matter who's leading the division at the time, whoever they're playing, that team's capable of beating them a lot. There's going to be a lot of those series. It is going to be black and blue. I think with a new format -- just with a couple extra teams making it [in the playoffs] -- you've got to be concerned with playing good every day. You can't worry about just your division. If you can go out and win your division, great. But after that, it's the next two. Games we win against [our next opponent] St. Louis or whoever we play, whoever's in that boat, are going to be important games."

Any chance of Miami contending begins and ends with its talented rotation, which ranked 13th in the Majors in ERA last season despite extended absences from Pablo López and Hernandez. Take out the shortest start of Trevor Rogers' career on Saturday, and Miami's other three hurlers -- Sandy Alcantara, López and Hernandez -- allowed just three runs across 17 2/3 innings (1.53 ERA) this series.

Hernandez, whose season debut didn't go as planned in a loss to the Angels, completed six frames for the first time since Aug. 30, 2019. Injuries have limited the 26-year-old right-hander over the past two seasons, and he had a scare during the Grapefruit League finale when he exited after being struck by a comebacker. When healthy, Hernandez is a reliable arm. In 2021, he pitched five innings or more in seven of his 11 starts and held opponents to two runs or fewer seven times as well.

“It's one of the things I want to try all the time, just go deep in the game,” Hernandez said via an interpreter. “It's been a while since I’ve done that. That's what I want to do. That way, I can help the team win some games.”

To complement that staff, Miami revamped its lineup over the offseason. But it didn’t see immediate results, scoring just 14 runs during a 1-4 opening trip to San Francisco and Anaheim. The club ranked 27th in runs per game and last in average with runners in scoring position. In the four games against the Phillies, the Marlins scored 25 runs and went 14-for-42 (.333) with RISP.

Miami is surging with its two biggest free-agent signings -- Jorge Soler (.564 OPS) and Avisaíl García (.615 OPS) -- combining for just four extra-base hits and two RBIs through the season’s first nine games. With a lengthened lineup, youngsters Jazz Chisholm Jr. (1.234 OPS) and Jesús Sánchez (1.018 OPS) have picked up the slack and brought the energy.

“We think we're the best in our division,” Chisholm said. “We're not going out there thinking we're second to anybody. I know those guys have the last year's MVP on their team, but that means nothing to us. We're going to go out there and compete every day. Don't care who's on the mound, don't care who's on the field. So like I said, we feel like we're the best, so we're going to go out there and give our best every day.”