Marlins set to 'turn the page' after tough start

López strong again, but Miami swept by St. Louis to end homestand

April 8th, 2021

MIAMI -- Marlins right-hander Pablo López couldn't hide his frustration after Yadier Molina broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the seventh inning of a 7-0 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon at loanDepot park.

López had retired 10 in a row before walking Matt Carpenter with two outs in the seventh. Following a mound meeting, Molina deposited the second pitch of his at-bat, which was well inside, over the left-field fence. He was the last batter López faced.

That sequence epitomized Miami's 1-5 opening homestand against two fellow 2020 postseason teams, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. In 2020, the Marlins jumped out to a much-needed fast start (7-1) to their 60-game slate. This year, the calendar still reads April 7. The regular-season finale isn't until Oct. 3. Wednesday marked only Game 6 of 162 -- or 3.7 percent of the schedule.

Now, the Marlins embark on a seven-game road trip to face the Mets and Braves, two of the favorites in the National League East. Maybe a change of scenery is what the team needs. Miami hasn't had a winning record at home since 2017, even going 11-15 en route to reaching the postseason last year. The Marlins went 20-14 on the road, and that's where they will be for 36 of their first 60 games.

"Sometimes, it's nice," Miami manager Don Mattingly said. "Obviously, you want to play well at home. You don't want to be a team that doesn't play well at home. We were pretty good on the road last year, it seemed like, so we'll see what happens, but we're going to turn the page quickly. We've got a day game tomorrow; it's going to come fast by the time we get in tonight.

"We're going to get ready to play and turn the page. One of the things you talk about in this league is, 'Turn the page.' We're six games in, hasn't gone very well. That can't define us. If we're going to let that define us, then we weren't going to make it, we weren't going to do anything anyway."

The starting pitching
Through two turns of the rotation, Sandy Alcantara and López have picked up where they left off last fall, creating a formidable 1-2 punch. Across 23 2/3 combined innings, they have a 1.52 ERA and 27 strikeouts.

But there are question marks after them, with right-hander Elieser Hernandez on the injured list and Sixto Sánchez, MLB Pipeline's No. 14 overall prospect, experiencing a setback with right shoulder discomfort at the alternate training site. Inexperienced arms will be added to the starting staff for Thursday's opener and Sunday's finale in New York. Either Nick Neidert or Paul Campbell, both right-handed prospects, will pitch Thursday.

"We take great pride to just take the mound every five days, and on that fifth day, when we take the mound, our mentality is to try to give our team a chance, which is always the goal every single outing," López said. "That's what we're trying to do, and we have the weapons to give ourselves good options to put ourselves in good counts, and when you're in good counts, a lot of good things are going to happen.”

The offense
Despite solid starting pitching, run support has been hard to come by. In their five losses, the Marlins have scored seven total runs (including a pair of shutouts) on 28 hits. Miami has left 37 runners on base and has gone 4-for-34 (.118) with runners in scoring position.

It's a small sample, but the lack of consistency has surprised Mattingly after a solid spring. Unofficial team captain Miguel Rojas said the poor results aren't for lack of energy. He sees his teammates trying to do too much, rather than passing the baton off.

"The at-bats are fine, our at-bats are good, we were seeing good pitches," Rojas said. "We are fighting in our at-bats, and we're putting a lot of runners on base. That's what is important -- getting guys on base. Now is what's the next step, following the plan, like make sure that you're doing your job instead of trying to hit a homer, or something like that. That's exactly what I'm seeing. I can't really talk for the rest of the guys, but what I'm seeing is we are trying to do too much, especially in that situation where we get runners in scoring position."

The bullpen
Miami's revamped bullpen capped a tough homestand by allowing five runs over the final two innings, punctuated by Dylan Carlson’s grand slam off Rule 5 Draft pick Zach Pop in the ninth. The relief corps has given up seven homers in six games, compiling a 6.75 ERA with a blown save.

As with anything this early in the season, don't read too much into the results. Reigning American League champion Tampa Bay has the Majors’ worst bullpen ERA at 8.18; in 2020, it ranked third best.