A win would have put them at .500, improved their position in both the division and wild-card standings, and given them their first home sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals since 1996.
Wednesday could have been a turning point for the Marlins.
Instead, it turned into a reality check.
After taking the first two games of the series with St. Louis, the Marlins came up flat — on the field and at the plate — in a 5-2 loss that derailed their high hopes entering the finale.
Cardinals pitcher Justin Masterson literally drove the Marlins into the ground with a heavy sinker that had Miami hitters beating the ball into the dirt. Masterson held the Marlins to three hits over seven innings while recording 13 of his 21 outs on ground balls.
Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi wasn’t as successful, not that he was totally responsible.
Eovaldi was coming off one of his finest outings when he pitched eight scoreless innings in Cincinnati. But the Cardinals were a different story, scoring two in the third off Eovaldi on three singles and a walk.
The Cardinals scored two more runs on Eovaldi’s watch, but neither was earned as a pair of Jordany Valdespin errors led directly to each. The first of those came in the fifth when Matt Holliday grounded into a potential inning-ending double play.
But after taking Adeiny Hechavarria’s throw for the force at second, Valdespin bounced his throw to first, and it got past Garrett Jones. That enabled Matt Carpenter to trot home, making it 3-0.
Valdespin wasn’t finished.
One inning later, he booted a routine, two-out grounder for another error. Jon Jay doubled, followed by an RBI single from Masterson. The result was another unearned run.
“When you start talking about playing meaningful games, you’ve got to make plays,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.
Eovaldi accepted his share of the blame. After the second of Valdespin’s two errors, he said he should have brushed aside the mistake and gotten the third out.
“I feel like I didn’t pick up the team,” Eovaldi said. “We had a few errors, and I feel like I just didn’t pick them up after that.”
Especially bothersome to Eovaldi was the fact that Masterson beat him with the RBI single.
“You get the pitcher up there, and you think you just need to locate a fastball,” Eovaldi said. “But you’ve got to be able to treat him like any other hitter and mix in some off-speed pitches. I thought I made a good pitch, low and away, and he just hit it.”
It has been a poor year defensively for the Marlins and a rough week in particular for the right side of the infield, as Jones hasn’t exactly been wielding a Gold Glove at first base.
Second base, in particular, has been a sore spot defensively for the Marlins.
On the season, Marlins second basemen have been charged with 15 errors, the third-highest total in the majors at that position. Their 14 first-base errors are fourth-most in the majors. And they have committed more catching errors than any other team.
Not surprisingly, the Marlins rank very close to the bottom in the National League teams in fielding.
“We haven’t played as well as we could defensively,” Redmond said of the season in general. “We talk about 27 outs, and sometimes that’s been a challenge for us.”
But it wasn’t all about the defense.
The Marlins did next-to-nothing at the plate Wednesday, as they were held to five hits. Two of those belonged to Casey McGehee, who has tallied two hits in each of his past four games and five of his past six.
Otherwise, Masterson — making only his third start for the Cardinals since joining them July 30 in a trade with the Indians — held the lineup in check.
The Marlins didn’t get on the board until Jeff Baker cranked a pinch-hit homer with one out in the ninth. It was the sixth pinch-hit homer of Baker’s career and first since 2012.