For most of the season, the Marlins’ starting rotation has pitched beyond expectations, keeping games tight while waiting for an anemic offense to finally wake up from its slumber.
Something finally gave way Wednesday night — and it wasn’t what the Marlins were hoping for.
Fueled by a six-run fifth inning and another strong start from left-hander Mike Minor, the first-place Braves kept the Marlins’ misery going, rolling to an 8-0 victory in front of an announced crowd of 13,810 — the smallest in Marlins Park’s brief history.
“It’s tough to pitch and be perfect, especially when you play teams like the Braves and Phillies,” manager Mike Redmond said. “We’ve got to do our part offensively to take some pressure off the pitchers. We can’t ask those guys to go out and throw a shutout every single night to keep us in the game. Offensively, we’ve got to get it going.
“I was hoping maybe when we were down, it would kind of relax guys a little bit to where they get a breather and start swinging the bats. We’re still just not there yet. We’ve got to keep going and keep battling and hopefully after this day off [Thursday] come out Friday with a little bit freer minds and see what we can do.”
Alex Sanabia, who pitched six scoreless innings in the Marlins’ lone victory this season last week against the Mets, took the loss for the Marlins (1-8). He got shelled in the fifth after avoiding trouble through his first four innings.
The big blows for the Braves: a 404-foot, three-run home run off the bat of rookie catcher Evan Gattis that landed in The Clevelander in left field and a two-run, 436-foot blast to center by Juan Francisco.
“It was a rough inning — that’s all it was to it,” said Sanabia, who gave up eight hits and three walks on 81 pitches. “To Gattis, it was something enough over the plate for him to get it. The one to Francisco was just a cookie down the middle, nothing more to that. Left it in the hitter zone.”
As rough as Wednesday’s loss was, the bigger stories are the continued drop in attendance and lack of offense from a lineup sorely lacking punch.
The Marlins, who expected smaller crowds this season with only 5,000 season-ticket holders (a drop-off from 12,000 a year ago) following a payroll purge, drew only 62,471 for the opening three-game home series. That total was far less than last year’s three-game season low — 69,638 against the Phillies in mid-August — and similar to the days when the team played in front of an empty Sun Life Stadium.
In fact, the team drew fewer than Wednesday’s crowd count of 13,810 a total of only 13 times during its final year at Sun Life Stadium. Not only are the Marlins setting new record lows for attendance, they are setting team records for offensive futility, too.
The team’s 16 combined runs through nine games are the fewest in club history (23 combined runs in 1996 was the previous low).
Former catcher John Buck, now with the Mets, homered for the fifth time this season Wednesday, raising his National League-leading RBI total to 15 through nine games. That’s three more homers and just as many RBI as the Marlins have as a team.
Shut out for the fourth time this season, the Marlins produced seven hits against the Braves on Wednesday and a combined 13 hits for the series. Third baseman Placido Polanco had five of the hits during the series including two Wednesday. He’s currently the only Marlins regular hitting better than .300.
The Marlins had a few chances to score Wednesday. They put runners on the corners in the sixth and got leadoff doubles from Polanco and Chris Valaika to start the second and third innings. But they couldn’t capitalize on any of those opportunities.
Marlins All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton continues to struggle. He did finally collect his first hit of the homestand in the eighth off Braves reliever Anthony Varvaro, a softly hit single to center to an end 0-for-11 run at the plate. But he is just 5 for 30 this season (.167) and still looking for his first home run and RBI of the season.
“Hopefully that will be the start of him getting back on track and confident and aggressive,” Redmond said. “Obviously he’s a huge part of our lineup. We need him to get going and get some hits and drive in some runs.”• Former first-round pick and catcher Kyle Skipworth made his major-league debut with a runner on and one out in the seventh. But he swung at the first pitch and bounced into a 1-6-3, inning-ending double play.