Castro's clutch HR almost a feel-good ending

Miami aims to play spoiler against contenders, but miss the KO in D.C.

August 31st, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The Marlins are operating for the remainder of the season with little in the way of expectations for their on-field production. Outside of evaluating their young pitching staff, the majority of their bats of the future remain in the Minors, and that’s most likely where they’ll stay after rosters expand on Sunday.

But one thing does remain a driving force: The ability to play spoiler, with eight of the Marlins’ last 10 series coming against teams looking to break into the postseason -- well, that, and avoiding getting near the franchise record for losses in a season.

After fighting back from multiple deficits, Miami came close to making it happen on Friday night against Washington at Nationals Park. ’s ninth-inning homer made it seem like they were on their way, but a bottom-of-the- ninth implosion by eradicated any such hope, and the Nationals danced their way to a 7-6 walk-off victory on Anthony Rendon's single, which drove in the tying and winning runs.

“Honestly, it’s a lot more frustrating if you're not doing anything at all,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “Tonight, at least it’s a ballgame. … We are having chances to do some things. At least you are in a fight tonight, but it was frustrating, obviously, [at] the end of it.”

The Marlins will need more than just a fighting spirit if they want to avoid matching the franchise’s season-record of 108 losses, set in 1998. Now with 86 defeats following Friday’s game, the Marlins have to win at least seven of their remaining 28 to avoid brushing up the wrong side of history.

While a seemingly attainable goal, the schedule provides little respite. After this series at Washington, which has been the hottest team in baseball since late May, and three-game sets against the Pirates and Royals, the Marlins finish their season with six series against teams still in contention for the postseason. Only one, the Giants, own a record below .500.

And to make matters worse, 18 of the Marlins’ final 28 games are on the road, where Miami sports a 20-43 record -- the worst road winning percentage in the National League.

“The fact that we have the chance to be part of a pennant race and play with teams that feel like they need to win pretty much every day,” Mattingly said of the team’s motivation before Friday’s loss. “They feel different now; being able to play these guys … I think it gives us a chance to be part of games that have some meaning.”

“You just come in to win a game and fight and compete and do our best,” Castro said. “It’s not always [going] to happen the right way, but we continue to fight and never quit.”

They’ve gotten the help they need from Castro. His two-run blast in the ninth came after a one-run single in the seventh. Both combined to give him 28 RBIs in August -- almost 40 percent of his season output (71) in a month with one more game to go.

But they’ll perhaps even more so need help from a pitcher like Stanek, who, since his arrival at the Trade Deadline, has been thrust with the responsibility of closing games -- at least until Jose Urena makes his return in the near future.

Stanek’s numbers thus far leave much to be desired. He’s recorded just one save in five tries and allowed eight earned runs in the nine innings he’s pitched since coming over.

“It’s been frustrating. Today is just another … another just …” Stanek trailed off. ”It sucked, honestly. … And it sucks to feel like you let the whole team down.”

It was a game the Marlins seemed destined to win and one they would have certainly liked to have closed out. The Nationals played themselves into tight spots with errors while Miami had more length from its starter, , had nearly as many opportunities with runners in scoring position (1-for-11) and had the benefit of the magic hit that seems to be behind most wins.

“It was one of those games all night long I felt like we were going to win,” Mattingly said. “I just had that feeling all night long. … For some reason, it was one of those games you felt you were going to win, and, obviously, it didn't happen.”