Even in the midst of a rebuild, Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly considered his team’s three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers as a measuring stick, a testing point to see where his team that is well on its way to a last-place finish in the National League stands against Major League Baseball’s upper-echelon teams.
The Marlins found themselves on both extremes.
They were walloped by a combined 24-2 score in the first two games before a two-inning offensive surge gave them a 13-7 sweep-avoiding win on Thursday.
By the time the rebuild is over, the Marlins want games like Thursday to be the norm, not the exception.
They want to be more competitive in stretches like their last two-plus weeks — ones where they face five playoff contenders in consecutive series.
The Minnesota Twins. The Tampa Bay Rays. The Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers. Even the New York Mets have put themselves in position to make a late postseason push.
Even with Thursday’s win, the Marlins went just 4-12 against those five teams who will be vying for playoff spots over the final month of the regular season.
But Miami is hoping a win like Thursday — their only win against the National League’s top team in six tries — can serve as a reminder that the Marlins are capable of winning marquee games if everything works out.
“We’re always going to go out and compete,” catcher Jorge Alfaro said. “We’re always going to go out and do our best. That’s what we tried to do tonight, to go out there and keep competing. This team has the same mentality all the time. It’s never quit.”
The Marlins have shown blips this season of being able to compete with MLB’s top teams throughout Year 2 of their rebuild under the Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter ownership group. Thursday’s win against the Dodgers serves as the latest example. Same with their win against the Braves on Saturday when they used a dramatic ninth-inning rally to set up Martin Prado’s 10th-inning walk off sacrifice fly.
But more often than not, the results had not gone in their favor.
They took the series finale three against the Twins at Marlins Park and were then swept by the Rays and Mets on the road. Miami then split a four-game home set with the Braves and were outscored 24-2 in their first two games against the Dodgers before holding on in the series finale.
The Marlins are 29-63 this year overall against teams that entered Thursday with winning records and are guaranteed losing records against every team in the NL East except possibly the Philadelphia Phillies (the Marlins have a 7-6 series edge this year with six games left).
The Marlins are 45-75 on the season and need to win at least 18 of their final 42 games to avoid losing 100 games for just the third time in the organization’s 26-year history (also 2013 and 1998).
Maybe Thursday is the win they need.
“It feels good, man,’‘ said center fielder Lewis Brinson, one of four Marlins players to drive in three runs on Thursday. ‘‘That’s a good team over there. Their record and all their numbers show it. We just said we’ve got to fight every at-bat against these guys, because they’re a good squad. That’s exactly what we did.’