Midseason Superlatives: Some shine, struggle in Marlins’ first half
Just like that, 88 games have come and gone.
The Miami Marlins are a little more than halfway done with the 2019 season and begin the final two-and-a-half month stretch on Friday when they host the New York Mets for a three-game series.
It hasn’t been the prettiest start to the season. The Marlins sit last in the National League with a 33-55 record, but they picked up the pace as of late. After a 10-31 start to the season, the Marlins went 23-24 in their final 47 games before the All-Star break.
Before the second “half” of the season gets under way, it’s time to recognize some Marlins players and moments that stood out during the first 88 games.
Unsung hero: Miguel Rojas
Miguel Rojas’ defensive prowess gave him his first opportunity to play at the major-league level five years ago with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It has been his strength for the past 4 1/2 seasons with the Marlins, too.
But this year, his first to prove he can be an everyday MLB shortstop, Rojas has fine-tuned his approach at the plate.
Rojas, a veteran on a young Marlins team in the midst of a rebuild, has been the whole package while also serving as a valued mentor for the fresh-faced roster.
Rojas, like the Marlins as a whole, went through his lumps early in the season, the price of adjusting to playing every day.
But looking at Rojas over the past two months of the seasons, and he has finally clicked offensively.
Rojas is batting .295 at the break and has already set a career high with 21 doubles. His batting average is on pace to set a career high as well, surpassing his .290 mark in 2017. He has tied his career best with six stolen bases and is two walks away from tying his career high for a season.
Rojas’ 90 hits are the fourth-most in Marlins history by a shortstop before the All-Star break. He has not gone back-to-back games without a hit since May 18-19. In the 44 games since, Rojas has batted .343 with 15 doubles, one home run and 14 RBI. In 18 games since moving to the leadoff spot full-time on June 18, Rojas is .373 with seven doubles, a home run and eight RBI.
Biggest surprise: Starting pitching
The surprise in this case isn’t that the Marlins’ rotation has been good. Miami’s starting pitchers were expected to be the strong point this season.
The surprise is just how good the group has been. Heading into the All-Star break, the Marlins’ eight starting pitchers — none older than 27 — are second in the National League East, fourth in the NL and seventh in MLB with a collective 3.96 ERA.
The Marlins used just five starters — Jose Urena, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith — for the first 64 games of the season before injuries set in. Smith went on the 10-day injured list on June 7 with left-hip inflammation. Urena followed with a herniated disc that placed him on the 60-day injured IL, and then Pablo Lopez went on the 10-day IL with a right-shoulder strain.
Their three replacements — Elieser Hernandez, Jordan Yamamoto and Zac Gallen — stepped up and continued where the starters left off.
In 13 combined starts, the trio has a collective 2.93 ERA with 78 strikeouts and 26 walks in 67 2/3 innings.
Yamamoto has been the highlight of the group. He’s 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA over five starts, giving up just 11 hits with 30 strikeouts to 15 walks in 29 innings. For context:
▪ He holds Marlins franchise records for lowest ERA, lowest batting average against (.165) and fewest hits allowed through a pitcher’s first five starts.
▪ His 30 strikeouts are tied with Josh Beckett for the second-most in franchise history through five starts, trailing only Dontrelle Willis’ 34.
▪ He is just the third pitcher since 1900 to make his MLB debut with five consecutive starts with three-or-fewer hits allowed. The others: Chris Paddack (2019) and Tom Cheney (1957-’59).
Biggest disappointment: Lewis Brinson
The Marlins were optimistic that Brinson’s struggles in the 2018 season were just a case of a rookie finding his bearings. They hoped he would shake off the rust and produce more at the plate during his sophomore season. After hitting .199 with 120 strikeouts over 406 plate appearances, there was nowhere to go but up, right?
Instead, Brinson batted .197 with almost twice as many strikeouts (28) as hits (15). He was demoted on April 30 and hasn’t been back up since.
Best individual moment: Alcantara’s two-hit shutout
It’s games like this that show why Alcantara was the Marlins’ All-Star Game representative. And it’s games like this that show why the Marlins believe he can be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher.
On May 11, after a string of three consecutive sluggish starts, Alcantara dominated the New York Mets to complete the Marlins’ first series sweep of the season. The 6-4 righty’s line in his complete-game shutout: nine innings pitched, two hits allowed, one walk, eight strikeouts. He threw just 89 pitches in the win. He retired the first 10 batters and faced the minimum through seven innings before running into a minor jam in the eighth.
He walked Pete Alonso on four pitches to open the frame and then allowed Adeiny Hechavarria to reach on a throwing error on a misplayed groundball two batters later. After pinch-hitter Smith worked a 3-0 count, Alcantara got him to ground into a double play to eliminate the threat.
The two hits he gave up — both by third baseman J.D. Davis — were erased when Robinson Cano grounded into double plays.
Honorable mentions: Yamamoto’s stellar MLB debut; Garrett Cooper’s go-ahead grand slam vs Detroit Tigers
Best game: 16-0 road win vs. Milwaukee
The biggest inning in Miami Marlins history was sparked by the bats of Cooper and Harold Ramirez.
The Marlins, just three weeks earlier on pace for one of the worst offensive seasons in MLB history, piled on 11 runs in the fifth inning of their 16-0 win against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 4. Miami started the top of the fifth inning with a single by Cooper, then kept pounding away against the Brewers, leading to a chorus of boos from the fans at Miller Park and eventually a sarcastic standing ovation from the 25,364 in attendance to watch the top team in the National League Central.
The final totals for the highest-scoring inning in team history: 11 runs scored on nine hits, two walks and an error. Three Marlins connected for doubles, including Pablo Lopez. Fifteen batters went to the plate and, at one point, nine in a row reached base safely.
MVP: Garrett Cooper
Injuries limited Cooper to four games through the first five weeks of the season.
But Cooper quickly became the catalyst the offense needed since becoming an everyday member of the starting lineup.
He leads Marlins regulars in average (.306), on-base percentage (.375) and slugging (.473) while sitting second in runs scored (33) and third in home runs (eight) despite playing in just 51 games. He has both a 14-game hitting streak and 20-game on-base streak in that run. He has two grand slams this year, none more pivotal than the go-ahead shot in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers to lead the Marlins to a 5-2 win on May 23.