PHILADELPHIA -- The 2023 Marlins have defied the odds all season long.
They will need to do so again in their National League Wild Card Series against the reigning NL champion Phillies.
Miami left-hander Jesús Luzardo gave up three runs on eight hits over four innings, while the bats fell short of yet another late rally in a 4-1 Game 1 loss in front of a sellout crowd of 45,662 at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
“I feel like we've been playing must-wins for the entire month of September, so it's a similar spot we're used to,” third baseman Jake Burger said. “Just wake up tomorrow and get back at it.”
In best-of-three Wild Card Series (which includes 2020 and ’22), Game 1 winners have gone on to win the series 10 of 12 times (83%). Both teams that have rallied from a Game 1 loss did so as the home team.
But it would be foolish to count out resilient Miami.
Seven months ago, ahead of Opening Day, the club was given just a 23.6% chance to reach the postseason. Not only did the Marlins do so for the fourth time in franchise history -- and the first in a full season in 20 years -- but they locked down the fifth seed.
Their 42 comeback victories were tied for fifth in MLB. Six of those came when trailing by three or more runs at the end of the seventh -- the most by an MLB team in a single season in the Modern Era, according to OptaSTATS.
Despite posting the sixth-worst record (21-31, 40.4% winning percentage) in series-opening games during the regular season, the Marlins managed to come back and capture the series eight times, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. One of those instances was July 7-9 against the Phillies in Miami.
With their backs against the wall, manager Skip Schumaker doesn’t believe his club needs a motivational speech to know what’s at stake in an elimination game.
“We're used to it,” Schumaker said. “I don't know how many times we've [lost the] first game of a series, but we end up winning the series. Hopefully that's the case this time. Again, it's a really good team, playoff tested. The crowd was into it, no doubt about it.”
If the Marlins want to force a Game 3 on Thursday night, however, they will have to get to Game 2 starter Aaron Nola sooner than they did against Wheeler. During the regular season, they held a 27-50 record when the opponent scored first.
Miami mustered just seven hits in Game 1 -- all but two of them singles -- and didn’t advance a runner into scoring position vs. Wheeler until Josh Bell’s seventh-inning one-out double. Back-to-back two-out infield hits from Burger and Bryan De La Cruz scratched a run across and chased Wheeler to make it a 3-1 deficit. It took Wheeler 27 pitches to get two outs in that frame after ranging between 10-16 pitches per inning through the first six.
Lefty José Alvarado took over for Wheeler and, following a wild pitch that moved the tying run into scoring position, struck out pinch-hitter and two-time World Series champion Yuli Gurriel. Miami stranded another runner in both the eighth and ninth, going 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position and leaving five on base.
Wheeler has been a thorn in the Marlins’ side for years, entering the postseason with a 2.48 ERA in 22 career starts against Miami. Nola, meanwhile, went 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts against the Marlins in 2023, after posting a 1.23 ERA in three starts vs. Miami last season.
“I don't think anybody plays this game very well when they're panicking,” said Bell, who went 2-for-3 against Wheeler. “We've won two in a row before. That's the mentality going into tomorrow. We've got a phenomenal pitcher [in Braxton Garrett] on the bump, and we've gotten to Nola a couple times in the past. So that's the plan. We'll just rinse this one off and get back after it tomorrow.”
The Marlins will need Burger, Jorge Soler and Jazz Chisholm Jr. to step up in the middle of the order. The trio combined to go 1-for-12 with five strikeouts. Soler, the 2021 World Series MVP with the Braves, has gone deep just once since returning from the injured list on Sept. 17. Burger and Chisholm posted an .856 OPS and an .816 OPS, respectively, in the season’s final month.
It’ll have to be a collective effort, especially with banged-up batting champion Luis Arraez. Starting for the first time since Sept. 23 because of a left ankle sprain, Arraez went 1-for-4. He had a noticeable limp when jogging out plays on the field.
“We try, we just need to stay focused,” Arraez said. “Today was a tough day. We didn't hit well, but we just need to continue to push hard and come back tomorrow. Tomorrow's another day. It's not how we start, it's how we finish.”