Familiar second-half woes sink Marlins again

August 30th, 2023

MIAMI -- Marlins manager Skip Schumaker might not think there’s much of a rivalry between Miami and Tampa Bay. But in the first of two Citrus Series games at loanDepot park on Tuesday night, it was quite the duel.

Well, until it wasn’t.

After five innings of fairly well-matched baseball, the woes that have plagued the Marlins in the second half came back to bite them, with Miami falling, 11-2, to Tampa Bay.

The Marlins (66-66) sit three games behind the Giants (69-63) for the third National League Wild Card spot. They're 2 1/2 games behind the D-backs (69-64) and one game behind the Reds (68-66).

If a tiebreaker is needed to determine a Wild Card spot, it first goes to head-to-head matchups, then to divisional records. Miami won its season series over Arizona (4-2), while it split its series with San Francisco (3-3) and Cincinnati (3-3).

Early on, the Marlins seemed to be trending up. They were able to accomplish what they had struggled to do of late: get runs early against an opponent’s starter. The first run came via some small(er) ball in the first inning, when three of the first four batters reached, capped by an RBI single from Jazz Chisholm Jr. Then, Chisholm went yard in the third to give Miami a 2-1 lead, his 13th homer of the season.

But that success didn’t last, and trouble was right on the Marlins’ heels. Though they continued to reach base -- with leadoff hits in four of the first seven innings -- they couldn’t get those runners in after the first, which Luis Arraez led off with a single. Jacob Stallings doubled to open the second -- his third two-bagger in as many games -- but he was stranded.

“We just haven't been good at situational hitting lately,” Schumaker said. “And it's coming back to bite us. … If we get a couple of those guys over and get them in, then it's, you know, maybe a 4-3 game, a 4-4 game, and then a couple of things might be different.

“That's what's tough, is early on. We're so good at playing the small ball. We're not going to outslug many teams, so we have to play the small-ball game. … Lately, we haven't been great at it. And when you're having trouble scoring runs, those type of plays matter. They don't show up in a box score, but they do matter.”

As has been the case lately, a one-run lead was far from safe for the Marlins, who have continued to “play with fire,” as Schumaker has said.

So when Sandy Alcantara got into trouble in the sixth inning -- before the bullpen allowed seven runs, including three homers -- there was no cushion. Alcantara went just 5 2/3 innings, the first time he had not thrown at least six since the All-Star break.

The sixth inning started off on an unlucky note for Miami, when right fielder Jorge Soler and second baseman Arraez barely avoided a collision going for a pop fly in shallow right. Neither caught the ball, and Brandon Lowe landed on second with a double.

“There’s no routine plays,” Schumaker said. “Like Soler and Arraez going after it. That's not a routine [ball]. So they're going hard after [it] until they hear something, [and] if nobody says anything, they're going to continue to go. And so when there are tougher plays like that, you don't call it because you're not sure if you're 100 percent or if the other guy has a better chance.”

The trouble continued. Alcantara struck out Randy Arozarena on a 99 mph fastball but allowed a single to Isaac Paredes after a nine-pitch at-bat. That prompted a mound visit from pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., after which Alcantara induced a flyout to center by Josh Lowe. Then came the pitch Alcantara probably most wishes the most he could get back: a 1-2 changeup that missed its location and hit Vidal Brujan in the right foot. Jose Siri followed with a two-run double, giving the Rays a lead they did not concede.

“The hit by pitch. ... I know I can strike him out, that guy over there,” Alcantara said. “And then I just hit him with my best pitch, a changeup. ... [I’m] disappointed in myself.

“Today wasn't the day that I can say I do my best. I mean, I was doing my best, you know? But they win the game. We feel bad about it.”