Nineteen games into the 2019 season, the Miami Marlins needed a team meeting.
For close to 10 minutes following their 6-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday, Don Mattingly called his team together inside the home clubhouse at Marlins Park for a message of urgency.
“I think this is the lowest point that we can reach, to be honest with you,” infielder Miguel Rojas said. “We’re touching under the water right now.”
Miami, which was widely expected to be among the worst teams in the National League, has been a disappointment even given its anticipation for offensive struggles. With their 13th loss in 15 games and second sweep in three series, the Marlins (4-15) have found themselves at what they hope will be their lowest point of 2019.
Miami never had a stretch worse than this in 2018, when it finished with 98 losses. The Marlins currently have the worst scoring offense in baseball, averaging just 2.5 runs per game. They’ve been shut out five times already and held to one run four other times.
“At this time, you’ve got to make a decision,” Rojas said. “You’re either going to stay down there and be miserable for the rest of the year or you’re going to bounce back. That’s what we’re trying to change.”
The problem right now is the blame can’t all be pinned on the offense, which has scored just 48 runs all season. Miami allowed at least four runs in each of the three games against the Cubs (8-9) and is now surrendering an average of 5.1 runs per game. The Marlins’ perceived strength still has them in the bottom third of MLB in runs allowed.
Even when Mattingly has good things to say about his pitchers — like he did about Sandy Alcantara on Wednesday in Miami — they come with heavy caveats. Alcantara (1-2) got back to being aggressive and struck out seven Wednesday in front of 10,247, but he also gave up seven hits and five earned runs, all in the second and third innings. The starting pitcher still hasn’t been able to recapture the magic of his season debut, when he tossed eight scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies on the last day of March.
“Everybody’s got to understand you’re going to have good days and bad days,” the rookie said. “You’ve got to keep working hard.”
Even if he had been great, the Marlins didn’t give him the support he would’ve needed. On defense, outfielder Austin Dean misplayed a fly ball to left field in the third and let it drop for a two-run double.
On offense, Miami couldn’t manage anything against Cole Hamels. The starting pitcher fired seven shutout innings, striking out eight and allowing three hits. Hamels (3-0) only had to deal with runners in scoring position in the seventh after an error let the Marlins load the bases, and the left-handed pitcher promptly struck out second baseman Starlin Castro and got Rojas to line out to right field to end the threat.
“I sense a little bit of defense. Even when we’re hitting, we’re playing safe, kind of. Just holding punches or something like that,” Rojas said, trying to put his finger on the offense’s struggles. “We’re passive. We’re not aggressive. We’re not ready to fight.”
The challenge of coming alive won’t be easy when the Marlins return to action Friday against the Washington Nationals following an off day. On Saturday, Miami faces perennial Cy Young contender Max Scherzer, then the Marlins get former All-Star starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg on Sunday.
Right now, there’s no other choice but to look forward, though. They might be touching under the water, but the water can wash the past away.
“We’re not going to get these games back. We’re not going to get this start back,” Mattingly said. “We live here in the ocean and the waves come in, and the sand is clean.”
Lewis Brinson heads to bench
After a promising start to his sophomore campaign, Lewis Brinson hit a major wall at the end of the Marlins’ most recent road trip. Brinson, who was statistically one of the worst hitters in the Majors as a rookie in 2018, batted .275 in Miami’s first 11 games before an 0-for-4 game against the Cincinnati Reds last Wednesday caused him to spiral. The outfielder went hitless in six of his next seven games before Mattingly decided he had seen enough. For the series finale against Chicago, the manager sent Brinson to the bench and it could be for more than just one game.
“Maybe a couple,” Mattingly said. “He’s really struggling, looking at some of the stuff. We’re doing some stuff with him on working on seeing the baseball a little better, knowing exactly what to do up there.”
In the seven-game stretch, Brinson is just 1 for 21 with a double and two walks. His batting average has dipped all the way down to .197, while his on-base percentage has slipped to .246 and his slugging percentage to .262.
The decision to bench Brinson comes just a day after Miami recalled outfielder Isaac Galloway, giving the Marlins plenty of options in the outfield to give Brinson a few days off. On Wednesday, Miami started Galloway in Brinson’s usual center field spot, while fellow outfielder Austin Dean started in left field and utility Rosell Herrera started in right field.
With options like those, the Marlins can be afford to be patient with Brinson, who was the key return piece when Miami traded MVP outfielder Christian Yelich last year.
“We still need to be patient. We know the talent’s there,” Mattingly said. “We have been happy with his work and development with some things in the cage and his BP. We feel like the work’s taking hold there. It’s just game time, we’re having more trouble allowing that to work into the games and that’s obviously probably the one thing we need to see.”