Marlins' misplays give way to first loss of this variety

May 5th, 2023

CHICAGO -- As the Marlins have shown a penchant for winning close games early going this season, one defining number has stood out above the rest: four.

Entering Friday’s series opener against the Cubs, the Marlins boasted a 15-0 record in games they held their opponents to four runs or fewer. But that streak came to an end with a 4-1 loss to Chicago at Wrigley Field.

Miami got a solid start from and finished the day with the same number of hits as the Cubs (8), but a few plays proved costly. Here is a look at three key, difference-making moments from the loss:

Disengagement violation
The Cubs got on the board first via a Seiya Suzuki RBI single in the first inning, but a few Marlins mishaps aided them along the way, including a disengagement violation by Cabrera.

“That's a mental mistake,” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said. “We have an idea of what we should have done there. The game kind of sped up on Cabby, so hopefully that doesn't happen again.”

After leading off the inning with a single, Nico Hoerner drew the attention of Cabrera throughout Ian Happ’s ensuing plate appearance. Cabrera threw a pickoff attempt -- Hoerner got back safe -- and late in the sequence stepped off the rubber.

Among MLB’s rule changes implemented this season, pitchers are limited to two disengagements from the rubber -- i.e. step-offs and pick-off throws -- per plate appearance. A third disengagement, when there are runners on base, results in a balk, unless they successfully pick a runner off.

Hoerner took a big lead, and Cabrera threw another pickoff attempt (to no avail) resulting in a balk. Hoerner advanced to second, then to third on a passed ball by catcher  and scored on Suzuki’s single.

“Not going to lie here, it actually caught me by surprise,” Cabrera said through interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “It’s something that we're still adjusting [to] -- the clock, the three pickoffs. He kind of got me by surprise and then that happened.”

Doubled off
The Marlins had a chance to draw the score even at 1 in the fifth, but the inning ended due to a combination of a baserunning mistake by  and a tough break for Miami.

De La Cruz led off the frame with a single, and Stallings moved him to second on a sac bunt.  then hit a high line drive that Hoerner snagged with an impressive leaping catch, and De La Cruz was caught far off the base. Hoerner doubled him off to end the threat.

“We've had some interesting -- or some bad -- baserunning mistakes the last couple days, the last couple games, and it's cost us,” Schumaker said. “Momentum swings the other way when those things happen. As a manager, I gotta clean that up in the clubhouse and message that a little bit differently, because that stuff just can't happen.”

Trouble with the curve
Cabrera’s curveball accounted for half of his eight strikeouts on Friday. However, of the 30 he threw on the afternoon, there are two he may want back.

The Cubs led 1-0 in the fifth when Dansby Swanson reached on a two-out single, lining a curve Cabrera hung in the bottom of the zone into left field. Happ came up next, and Cabrera threw a curve in a similar spot. The Cubs' left fielder drilled a two-run homer to center.

Happ’s homer and Swanson’s single were the second- and third-hardest hit balls in Friday’s game.

“Just trying to stay in the zone, as well,” Cabrera said. “Not all the time that pitch is going to be a home run. We're just trying to stay in the zone.”

Cabrera allowed three runs in five innings Friday. He walked one batter, compared to those eight strikeouts, but threw 95 pitches. His first-pitch strike percentage was 40.9.

“If we want to get to the sixth and seventh inning, pitch one has got to be a strike or close to it, because his changeup is really good,” Schumaker said. “His changeup looked great today, his offspeed is great. But getting that first-pitch strike is going to be the key for him.”

A few plays can make the difference between a win or loss. The Marlins like their chances when games are close, but have to play a cleaner game than Friday's to win.

“We do feel really good when it’s close,” Schumaker said. “But we have to play cleaner baseball if we want to win big league games.”