The Mariners travel to Miami for the first time in nearly a decade.
After an eight-run, luck-aided outburst in the first game of the series, the Mariners bats went quiet over the last two days. It was the pitching — first Yohan Ramirez and a handful of other relievers and then Chris Flexen — who kept those games within reach until the final outs. Even after this slight hiccup, Seattle is tied for the second-best run differential in the American League and possess the second-best offense by wRC+ (123). They’ll travel to the Atlantic side of Florida for a three-game series against the Marlins this weekend.
Because of the shortened 2020 season (the AL West was scheduled to play the NL East in interleague play that year), the Mariners haven’t played the Marlins since 2017. In fact, the last time these two teams met, Ichiro Suzuki was still playing for Miami.
You have to go all the way back to 2014 to find the last time the Mariners visited Miami.
After winning two World Series within the first 11 years of their existence, the Marlins have been mired in a long period of mediocrity. Their cycle of winning and rebuilding has been stuck on the latter for nearly two decades. They surprisingly made the expanded playoffs in 2020 and even won their first-round series against the Cubs, but that seemed more like a confluence of good circumstances than a result of their long rebuilding process. Last year, they sunk back down to 95 losses, though there were some signs of progress.
Through their various drafts and trades, the Marlins have assembled one of the youngest and most exciting pitching staffs in baseball. Led by Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, and Trevor Rogers, there is a ton of talent on the hill in Miami. This offseason, they finally committed to bolstering their offense to support their young pitchers; they brought in Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García via free agency and traded for Joey Wendle and Jacob Stallings.
While all those new additions certainly raise the floor of the Marlins lineup, the man driving their early success has been their young second baseman, Jazz Chisholm Jr. He’s currently hitting .308/.356/.673 on the season with the fourth highest ISO in baseball. He’s always shown great raw power, but has always had trouble getting to it consistently because of significant contact issues. In his first two seasons in the big leagues, his strikeout rate sat just under 29%, but it’s down to 27% this year though his contact rate has also fallen by nearly three points. Both Soler (68 wRC+) and García (37 wRC+) have gotten off to slow starts in their first seasons in Miami. It’s too early to really worry about them, but it has been a drain on the team’s overall production during the first month of the season.
Elieser Hernandez is one of the lesser known youngsters on the Marlins pitching staff, though he’s one of the most experienced. He made his major league debut back in 2018 as a 23-year-old but a host of injuries have limited him to just 38 appearances and 32 starts in the three years since his rookie season. Without an overpowering fastball, Hernandez relies more on his ability to command his pitches than their raw stuff. Unfortunately, all those injuries have really sapped his ability to place his pitches where he wants. His fastball was already a bit homer prone but his recent lack of command has led to a nasty bout with dingeritis.
For whatever reason, Jesús Luzardo wound up hitting a development wall in Oakland last year. His command collapsed and he was shipped off to Miami in exchange for Starling Marte as the A’s made their last gasp attempt to make the playoffs. Regaining his command was priority number one for him this offseason and he made a few mechanical tweaks to address it. One of the knock-on effects of those adjustments has been a few additional ticks on his fastball’s velocity. Paired with his already nasty sweeping curveball, he’s struck out 37.7% of the batters he’s faced in his three starts this year.
Sandy Alcantara has been the Marlins biggest development success story. As a prospect, he had impressive raw stuff, including a fastball that reached triple-digits and a trio of above average secondary pitches, but his command of his repertoire was lacking. His ability to consistently generate strikeouts with his excellent arsenal of pitches fell well below expectations. In 2020, he took a step forward but really broke out in a big way last season. He increased his strikeout rate from 18% in 2019 to 24% in ‘21, and when paired with an elite groundball rate, made him one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
The Big Picture:
The Angels completed a four-game sweep of the Guardians in which they outscored Cleveland 20-7. They’ll travel to Chicago to face a reeling White Sox club in a four-game series that wraps around the weekend. The Astros won the last three games of their four-game set against the Rangers to get their season back on track. They’ll travel to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays in a battle of American League powerhouses. The A’s split their two games with the Giants this week and host the Guardians for three games this weekend.