The Marlins’ worst stretch this season came when they opened with a 5-11 record.
They followed that by winning 11 of 12 during a run that began with a close road victory over the Giants and their first-ever four-game road sweep of the Dodgers.
The Marlins’ three-game road sweep of the Pirates this past weekend was their first in Pittsburgh since 2011 and followed another stretch of games in which they lost 11 of 16 games.
With 38 games remaining, could this past weekend’s sweep spark the injury-ravaged Marlins toward a strong finish, and potentially the postseason?
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“Things change quickly this time of year,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
“We come out of Cincinnati and everybody’s not feeling great. Two days later, we feel like we have a good ball club again. It’s something that happens a lot this time of year and it’s probably going to keep happening.”
The Marlins (65-59) will try to keep the momentum going during their six-game homestand, which begins Tuesday with three games against the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals. The Royals arrive in Miami on an eight-game winning streak and still in playoff contention in the American League wild-card race.
In three days, the Marlins went from a team appearing to fade from the playoff race to a team only 1 ½ games behind the Cardinals for the final National League wild-card spot.
And although their place in the standings can shift drastically from game-to-game and series-to-series over the final six weeks, the Marlins proved in Pittsburgh they could still win crucial games, despite missing key players.
Their starting rotation is two pitchers down with Adam Conley (finger tendinitis) and Wei-Yin Chen (elbow sprain) on the disabled list.
The Marlins are hoping Conley will be able to return in early September, with Chen soon to follow.
In the wake of these setbacks and ace Jose Fernandez’s recent struggles, Tom Koehler (3-0, 1.62 ERA over his past six starts) and David Phelps (2-1, 1.31 ERA since moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation) have each stepped up.
Justin Bour (high ankle sprain) has been out since July 2, and Giancarlo Stanton (groin strain) is out for at least another five weeks.
The Marlins called up Xavier Scruggs — who had 21 home runs in Triple A this season — to start at first base all three games in Pittsburgh. Scruggs, who can also play in the outfield if necessary, hit his first career home run at a pivotal juncture in Saturday’s win.
Robert Andino found his way back to the majors after a three-year absence during which he battled back from a shoulder injury and played a year in the Independent League. Andino made a clutch outfield assist and drove in the winning run in Friday’s win.
The bullpen — which had surrendered leads in the seventh inning or later six times this month — should benefit from A.J. Ramos’ return from the disabled list.
Ramos — who saved 32 games in 34 chances and earned his first All-Star nod this season as a closer — looked effective Sunday in an eighth-inning setup role. Fernando Rodney followed with his seventh consecutive save since assuming closer duties.
“I was a part of that in 2010 [in Atlanta] and it is fun baseball,” pitcher Mike Dunn said. “Everything gets magnified and all the close games you play all season build you up to this point. We’ve played in a lot of different situations of baseball and we know what it takes. As this team has done all year long, we’re going to fight until the very last out. This team is built for success.”
▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Andrew Cashner (4-9, 4.92 ERA) vs. Kansas City Royals RHP Yordano Ventura (8-9, 4.46 ERA), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Wednesday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (12-7, 3.05 ERA) vs. Kansas City Royals RHP Dillon Gee (5-6, 4.52 ERA), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.