Ryan Braun didn’t even bother to backtrack to the left-field fence in the fourth inning Tuesday when Garrett Cooper launched a solo home run out of Miller Park. It was a no-doubter for the outfielder, a 447-foot line drive to give the Miami Marlins a three-run lead on the Milwaukee Brewers on the way to a 16-0 win.
The home run was the fourth of Cooper’s career and his fourth in 13 games. It was one of three for the Marlins in their series-opening win against the Brewers, their 12th win in 17 games and their 12th game in the last 17 with at least one homer.
“For us, it’s just getting some of the confidence and continue to keep it rolling,” slugging third baseman Brian Anderson said.
Miami’s transformation has been staggering. For the first 41 games of the season, the Marlins (22-36) averaged 2.6 runs per game and hit a total of 24 home runs. They won only 10 games and set a pace to win fewer than 40.
In the 17 since, Miami (22-36) upped its scoring average to 5.9 runs per game. The Marlins hit 22 total home runs and won 12 games, playing at a 114.4-win pace. Cooper, who had never hit a home run in parts of three MLB seasons, has four homers. Jorge Alfaro, who is getting a day off Wednesday when Miami plays the Brewers (34-27) at 7:40 p.m. in Milwaukee, also has four. Utility player Rosell Herrera has his first two homers of the season and outfielder Harold Ramirez has the first of his career.
The Marlins never expected to b e a team to win with power. They needed some sort of consistent pop, though, and the past three weeks have provided a template closer to what Miami needs if it wants to climb out of the National League East cellar sometime this summer.
“We’re starting to gain an identity as an offense where we kind of fight, scratch, move the line,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who put the ball in play and it allows us to do some things.”
The offensive turnaround actually traces a bit further back, Mattingly said. In early May, the Marlins traveled to Wrigley Field for a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs. Even though Miami dropped three of four in Chicago, Mattingly has frequently pointed to this road series as something of an offensive turning point.
The Marlins beat Cole Hamels in Game 1, then felt good about their collective approach against fellow starting pitchers Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish in the next three.
“Those guys—if you swing at balls in the wrong spots, they wear you out, and we did a really good job of not swinging and staying with what we want to do, not chasing in their areas,” Mattingly said. “The approach was good the whole series and we kind of carried that on, and it’s really just been getting better and better.”
They kept up their approach for the rest of the month and it finally yielded results with a three-game sweep of the New York Mets in late May, then with another three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers right after. Miami, which hadn’t homered since their first game against the Cubs, ended a seven-game home run drought by going deep in seven straight games.
“As a group, we started being — I’m not going to say more aggressive, but I guess that might be the best way to say it,” Anderson said. “Before that we were getting a little passive. I think we were trying to work counts a little bit too much and we weren’t really trying to drive pitches. I think definitely as a team we’re looking to drive mistakes.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt the Marlins to be on the road, either.
Only six games during the recent power surge have come at Marlins Park and two of those games against the San Francisco Giants account for two of the five games without a homer for Miami in the 17-game stretch. The Marlins enter Wednesday with home runs in four straight games, all of which were played on the road.
“A lot of those games at home you’re going to have balls that would normally be going out of a lot of fields,” Anderson said. “They get kind of swallowed up in Miami.”
This and that
▪ Alfaro’s day off has nothing to do with a jaw injury he suffered Friday. The catcher was scheduled to get either Wednesday or Thursday off with a day game Thursday and Mattingly wanted Alfaro to continue working with starting pitcher Caleb Smith, who is slated to start the series finale.
▪ After spending most of the last two weeks on the road, the Marlins come back to Miami on Friday to play nine straight games and 15 of their final 21 in June at home. The Marlins, who rank last in MLB in attendance, are offering discounted $9 tickets for nine games against the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The deal is only available Thursday at the team site.