The Miami Marlins followed up a homestand to forget with a winning road trip.
The Marlins finished their seven-game journey through St. Louis and Philadelphia with a 5-2 record, splitting a four-game series with the Cardinals and sweeping a three-game series against the Phillies.
They now return to Marlins Park with 20 wins over their past 35 games and are slowly climbing out of the National League cellar. While their 30-46 record is still the worst in the NL and 15 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, the Marlins are creeping up to be within a few other teams. They are only three-and-a-half games behind the San Francisco Giants and six behind the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds in the NL.
“We’re showing that we can compete and we do belong,” veteran reliever Sergio Romo said after Friday’s 2-1 win over the Phillies. “We may not be that great in the standings, but we’re a competitive ball club. ... We’re finding an identity. We really, really are. We’re finding out that we’re a bunch of misfits. We’re those guys that they pushed to the side but we have a lot of fight.”
It showed over the last week.
Here are seven takeaways from the seven-game road trip.
Adding to history
Jordan Yamamoto continues to rewrite parts of the Marlins’ record book.
After opening his MLB career with back-to-back seven-inning shutouts against the Cardinals, Yamamoto held the Phillies to two earned runs on two hits and four walks while striking out seven over five innings on Sunday. Yamamoto has a 0.95 ERA with 19 strikeouts, seven hits allowed and eight walks over 19 innings through his first three MLB starts, all wins.
Where does that stand? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Yamamoto is the first player in Marlins history to win his first three career starts. The last to do it at the MLB level with a sub-1.00 ERA: Tanner Roark in 2013 when he debuted the Washington Nationals.
Yamamoto is one of two pitchers in the modern era (since 1900) to go 3-0 in his first three starts and allow no more than seven hits. Wayne Simpson in 1970 is the other.
Moments to remember
Yamamoto certainly isn’t the only Marlins player to have some highlight moments over the road trip.
Zac Gallen made his MLB debut on Thursday, giving up one run on five hits and two walks while striking out six over five innings of work in the Marlins 7-6, 11-inning win against the Cardinals.
Wilkin Castillo hit a go-ahead double in the seventh inning of the Marlins’ win over the Phillies on Saturday — his first game at the MLB level in 10 years.
Reliever Jose Quijada backed up Castillo’s performance with his first career MLB save. Nick Anderson followed up a day later by earning his first career save on Sunday to close out the sweep.
Saturday and Sunday marked the third time in Marlins history that players earned their first career save in consecutive games.
Strong starting pitching
The Marlins came into this road trip without Jose Urena and Caleb Smith, and Pablo Lopez was placed on the 10-day injured list before his scheduled start.
Even without those three, the Marlins continued their strong run of starting pitching from a group with no one older than age 27.
The collective lines of the five starters (two each from Yamamoto and Eleiser Hernandez, one each from Gallen, Sandy Alcantara and Trevor Richards): 41 1/3 innings, 9 earned runs allowed (a 1.96 ERA), 46 strikeouts and just 17 walks.
For the season, Marlins starting pitching has a collective 3.71 ERA, which ranks fifth in MLB.
After spending the last five weeks at the bottom of the Marlins’ lineup, Miguel Rojas moved into the leadoff spot on Tuesday and has stayed there for the last six games. It was a calculated move, one that also included pairing Harold Ramirez and Garrett Cooper at Nos. 2 and 3 when both were in the lineup.
The Marlins were looking for an offensive spark after a 5-0 shutout loss to the Cardinals on Monday to open the road trip. Rojas had quietly posted a .319 batting average over his last 26 games before the move. If he could keep up that production, the Marlins thought it would jumpstart an offense that on many occasions failed to get key hits.
Rojas has batted .320 (8 for 25) with a pair of doubles and three RBI since moving to the top of the order. He reached base in all six games and had three multi-hit performances.
Cooper, meanwhile, continues to be one of the Marlins’ offensive catalysts. He went 8 for 18 (.444) with a home run, two doubles and four runs scored over five games on the road trip (missing two with a minor left triceps injury). He is riding a career-long 14-game hit streak and 20-game on-base streak.
The Marlins called on Romo on four consecutive days during the road trip — the last three games against the Cardinals and the series opener against the Phillies.
Four high pressure situations. Four times they needed clutch outs, needed to escape jams or close out a win. He delivered all four times.
A quick recap:
▪ Tuesday: Romo enters with two outs in the eighth inning against the Cardinals. The bases are loaded, and the Marlins hold a six-run lead with Paul Goldschmidt coming to the plate. Romo throws first-pitch slider inside, Goldschmidt bites and pops out to strand all three baserunners. Romo retires the side in order in the ninth to seal the win.
▪ Wednesday: Romo enters in the 10th with runners on the corners. The Marlins have him intentionally walk Paul DeJong to load the bases and bring JT Riddle in from center field to form a five-man infield. Romo strikes out Harrison Bader on three swinging strikes and then gets Marcell Ozuna to hit a double-play ground ball to Riddle to escape the jam. Goldschmidt hit a walk-off home run in the 11th for a 2-1 Cardinals win.
▪ Thursday: Romo enters in the bottom of the 11th with a two-run lead and gives up a two-out RBI double to Yadier Molina bring the winning run to the plate. As a play at the plate is reviewed and pinch-runner Jack Flaherty takes over for Molina at second base, Miguel Rojas tells Romo “Let’s run the play.” Romo proceeds to pick off Flaherty at second to seal the win and split the four-game series.
▪ Friday: Romo enters in the ninth inning with a one-run lead over the Phillies. He quickly gets Roman Quinn to strike out swinging and Bryce Harper to fly out to deep center field. A Rhys Hoskins single put the tying run aboard, but Romo induced a Jay Bruce popout to foul territory to seal the win.
“It really doesn’t take much convincing for me to take the ball,” Romo said Friday. “When Donnie says ‘Hey, you’re going in the game.’ I’m like, ‘Cool.’ It’s fun to me. I’m thankful for the opportunities. ... I’m thankful for Donnie. He trusted me again.”
JT Riddle, the Marlins’ shortstop-turned-center fielder, has found some pop in his bat. Riddle belted out three home runs over the final four games of the road trip — none bigger than his 11th inning, go-ahead two-run shot against the Cardinals on Thursday to close out the four-game series.
All three of Riddle’s home runs on the road trip gave the Marlins the lead. In addition to the game-winner against the Cardinals, he opened scoring against the Phillies on Saturday with a solo shot and then gave the Marlins a 3-2 edge on Sunday with a two-run home run in the second inning. Six of his 17 career home runs have resulted in the Marlins taking a lead.
“I’m finally squaring balls up and not missing,” Riddle said. “Early on there, I felt like my timing was kind of late. I was missing pitches that I could have hit. It’s nice to get on time and square pitches up.”
The Marlins have an off day on Monday before playing six games at home, three games each against the Washington Nationals from Tuesday to Thursday and the Phillies from Friday to Sunday.