Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly has said it several times this season: If the team’s starting pitching does its job, the Marlins will always be in contention to win ball games.
The young rotation — the Marlins have not started a pitcher older than 27 this year — has been one of the team’s few strengths this year through the first 70 games. There have been bumps in the road at points, but time and time again, the Marlins’ starting pitchers have proven to be relatively consistent overall.
And they have quietly been one of the best in Major League Baseball as the season nears its halfway point.
But inconsistent offense has kept the group from fully reaping the benefits.
Some context to their success:
The Marlins’ 3.86 team starting pitching ERA leads the National League East, is fourth in the NL and seventh in MLB heading into Wednesday.
They have one of the top staffs in the league when it comes to swing and miss rate. Opponents have whiffed on 16.2 percent of pitches swung at from Marlins starting pitchers, the seventh-highest rate in MLB. Four Marlins starters rank among the top 50 in the league: Caleb Smith (32.3 percent, seventh), Trevor Richards (28.7, 24th), Sandy Alcantara (25.9 percent, 40th) and Pablo Lopez (24.9 percent, 47th).
Even more: The Marlins have received quality starts, defined as throwing at least six innings while giving up no more than three earned runs, in half of their 70 games heading into Tuesday. Only three teams have a better rate: The Los Angeles Dodgers (44 in 73 games, 60.3 percent), the Houston Astros (42 in 73 games, 57.5 percent) and the Washington Nationals (36 in 71 games, 50.7 percent). The Astros and Dodgers are
Each member of the Marlins’ Opening Day rotation — Jose Urena, Richards, Lopez, Alcantara and Smith — has at least five quality starts this year through 14 turns of the rotation. Urena leads the team with eight quality starts. Lopez and Richards both have seven.
Even Elieser Hernandez and Jordan Yamamoto each has a quality start under their belt filling in for Smith (10-day Injured List, left hip inflammation) and Urena (60-day IL, herniated disc), respectively. Yamamoto will be on the mound Tuesday night against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Meanwhile, while the Astros and Dodgers are both 48-25 on the year and the Nationals are 33-38, the Marlins are last in the NL and 27th overall in MLB with a 25-45 record. They are 19-16 in those 35 games in which their pitchers throw quality starts and 6-29 otherwise.
Smith, who has been on the IL since June 7 and has missed his last two starts, threw a bullpen session Tuesday in Jupiter and is expected to have at least one rehab start before returning to the team.
“He’s going to make a start somewhere down the line,” Mattingly said. “The pen is the next line of progression. As long as he keeps doing that, keeps moving toward a rehab start and then he’ll be back.”
Hernandez, who has held opponents to just five runs (four earned) in two starts while striking out 13 in 11 2/3 innings, will continue to pitch in Smith’s slot of the rotation for now. He is next scheduled to pitch on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Mattingly has shuffled his starting lineup a bit after the Marlins were shut out for the league-high 13th time on Monday in a 5-0 loss to the Cardinals.
Miguel Rojas has moved up to the leadoff spot after batting No. 7, 8 or 9 for 30 of the last 31 games. Harold Ramirez moved up to No. 2 in the lineup, while Garrett Cooper, Brian Anderson and Starlin Castro move down one spot each to Nos. 3, 4 and 5.