WASHINGTON -- If these Marlins are going to stay afloat, the time is now.
Fighting to remain in the postseason picture, the flailing Marlins wrapped up a nightmare August on a high note Thursday, cruising to a 6-1 win over the Nationals to get back to .500 and hopefully push the worst month of their season into the rearview mirror.
Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jake Burger homers supplied the offense behind six innings of one-run ball from Braxton Garrett as Miami stayed three games behind San Francisco (70-64) for the third National League Wild Card spot. Miami also moved to two games behind idle Arizona (69-65) and 1 1/2 games behind idle Cincinnati (69-66).
If a tiebreaker is needed to determine a Wild Card spot, it first goes to head-to-head matchups, then to divisional records. The Marlins won their season series over the D-backs (4-2) and split their series with the Giants (3-3) and the Reds (3-3).
“If you told me in Spring Training we’d be a few games back in the playoff hunt at this point, I think I’d take it,” manager Skip Schumaker said. “If you’re coming to the field knowing you have a chance to make the postseason, it’s an exciting time to come to the yard. There are a lot of teams that are out of it, and it can be tough to find that motivation. We have that chance, and that’s all you can ask for.”
It’s difficult to understate how dampening August was to a Marlins team that struggled out of the All-Star break following one of the most successful first halves in franchise history. Miami’s 10-17 August record was the National Leauge's second-worst; despite Thursday’s win, the Marlins still finished the month having lost 10 of their last 14 games. They entered the month tied for the third Wild Card spot and held a one-game cushion on Aug. 14 -- but find themselves behind three teams only two weeks later.
“In this race right now, every game is important ,” Chisholm said. “We’re going to treat every game like it’s Game 7 of the World Series.”
Here are three keys for the Marlins now that September has arrived:
Miami’s offense cratered in the second half. The Marlins posted the NL’s second-lowest OPS in August and have hit just .185 since the All-Star break with runners in scoring position (including 3-for-14 on Thursday). Those kinds of struggles are difficult to overcome for a team that also ranks next-to-last among NL teams in home runs.
The Marlins desperately need the kind of pop Chisholm (three-run homer) and Burger (solo) provided, especially with Jorge Soler (hip) out of the lineup for the second straight game. Burger’s ninth-inning homer was his third since being acquired at the Trade Deadline as part of Miami’s attempt to add slug around Soler for the stretch run.
“We knew coming into this series that it was big, and now we’re flipping the page on August,” Burger said. “From here on out, every game is huge.”
2. Be their best selves
The Marlins simply need to win as much as they can, and they’ll likely have to play their best baseball to do it given their grueling final-month schedule. Of the Marlins 28 remaining games, 16 are on the road (57 percent) and 16 are against teams currently in postseason position. Following this series against Washington, these are their next four opponents:
- Dodgers: 2nd-best record in MLB
- Phillies: 1st in NL Wild Card
- Brewers: NL Central leaders
- Braves: MLB’s best record
How do you beat good teams? Do what you do best, very well. For the Marlins, that’s pitching. So they’ll be looking for more outings like the one they got Thursday from Garrett, who retired 11 of his first 12 and breezed through six on 73 pitches.
Miami’s record is 19-7 in Garrett’s starts this season, and just 48-60 when anyone else starts.
3. Seize opportunity
They also need to take care of business against lower opponents like Washington, which Miami has now taken eight of 10 games against this season. The Marlins are also 15 of 18 at Nationals Park over the last three years -- comfort they must take advantage of now in September, when every game is crucial.
“The goal and the message has always been ‘win today,’" Schumaker said. “You can’t think we need to go on a run, or go on a 10-game winning streak. If you do that, the details of today get lost. The most important part of today is to win the game that night.”