Miami Marlins

Home runs lift Miami Marlins to season-finishing win over Philadelphia Phillies

Miami Marlins second baseman Starlin Castro gestures as he rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
Miami Marlins second baseman Starlin Castro gestures as he rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Getty Images

It was a poetic way to close out the 2019 season.

Starlin Castro, in what very well might have been his final at-bat with the Miami Marlins, hit a solo home run to right-center field to lead off the second inning at Citizens Bank Park.

Isan Diaz, Castro’s second base successor for this Marlins club, followed up two batters later with a home run of his own to right field against the Philadelphia Phillies.

And then Martin Prado, one inning later in what could be the last at-bat of his baseball career, hit his 100th career home run.

The present and the future came together came together to lift the Marlins to a final win to wrap up the season.

Final score: Marlins 4, Phillies 3.

Final record: 57-105.

Final judgment: Even with a memorable final victory — one that allowed the Marlins to claim the season series over the Phillies (81-81) for the first time since 2008 — this team still has a ways to go with its rebuild.

“We talked to our guys before the game. I was proud that they competed all year long,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Outside of the record, I heard a lot from people around the game that our club plays hard and our guys get after it. That’s something that you feel good about.”

Two seasons have come and gone under the Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter ownership group, and results are still in the distance at the major-league level.

There have been flashes of what could be and about a half-dozen players have cemented themselves as major pieces of the future.

But a lot of the players the Marlins are banking of being part of their success have either yet to play at the MLB level or just got their first extended taste of it this year.

And there are questions.

Can the young core of hitters — the likes of Diaz, Brian Anderson, Jorge Alfaro and Garrett Cooper — take their game to another level next season? Anderson and Cooper made strides before season-ending injuries took their toll, Alfaro has shown improved plate discipline and Diaz was hot and cold over his first two months as a big leaguer.

Can Sandy Alcantara translate his late-season success into 2020? The 24-year-old rookie — and the Marlins’ lone All-Star this season — posted a 2.73 ERA (21 earned runs in 69 1/3 innings) with 58 strikeotus to 18 walks over his final 10 starts. That includes holding the Phillies to one earned run on eight hits with five strikeouts in Sunday’s finale.

For the season, Alcantara went 6-14 with a 3.88 ERA and 151 strikeouts over 197 1/3 innings. It’s the most innings thrown and the second-lowest ERA by a Marlins rookie in franchise history.

Barring a surprise move, Alcantara should be the front-runner heading into the offseason to be the Marlins’ 2020 Opening Day starter.

Will the Marlins make a splash in free agency? The team likely needs at least one veteran power bat to add to their lineup, as well as a possible backend starting pitcher, and will need to find ways to shore up their bullpen.

Will the Marlins’ revived farm system produce the big-name players the franchise is optimistic will reach the majors in the near future? The club has six of MLB’s top 100 prospects according to MLBPipeline. The top five — pitcher Sixto Sanchez (No. 23), outfielder JJ Bleday (No. 30), outfielder Jesus Sanchez (No. 52), shortstop Jazz Chisholm (No. 55) and outfielder Monte Harrison (No. 84) — joined the organization after Sherman and Jeter took over. Sixto Sanchez, Jesus Sanchez and Harrison are all expected to be called up at some point in 2020.

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This and that

Castro played all 162 games, becoming the fifth player in Marlins history to play every game in a season. The others: Jeff Conine (1993), Derek Lee (2002), Juan Pierre (2003-2005) and Preston Wilson (161 games in 2000). It’s the second time in his career that Castro played every game in a season. He also did it in 2012 with the Chicago Cubs.

Shortstop Miguel Rojas served as the Marlins’ player manager on Sunday. Castro was his bench coach. Caleb Smith was his pitching coach. Ryne Stanek was his bullpen coach.

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.