After stripping down their roster and filling it with journeymen and rookies, the Miami Marlins (26-25) were expected to have a second consecutive difficult season. And after the Washington Nationals (25-25) finished off a series win in Miami to drop the Marlins to 6-10, that prophecy seemed to be coming true.
But from there, the Fish went on a tear, winning 14 of their next 19 games, including sweeps of the Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, and New York Mets. Sadly, this optimism did not last long. The Marlins’ hopes were cruelly shot down when last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament and required Tommy John surgery that will end his season. The Marlins have fallen back since his disheartening injury, but remain half a game ahead of the Nationals in the NL East standings. They now head to Washington, where the Nats will attempt to continue their dominance of Miami and vault them in the playoff race.
A series win at home would allow the Nats to jump the Marlins, and if recent history holds, they should not have a difficult time doing that. The Nats have won five of their six games against Miami this year, including a sweep in DC April 8-10.
After finishing last in baseball in runs per game in 2013, the key to Miami’s 2014 success has been their strong offense. With a team slash line of .262/.330/.417, ranking fifth, fifth, and sixth in baseball respectively, the Marlins have scored 235 total runs, sixth most. They have also found a great deal of success with the long ball, having hit 54 through their first 51 games. Of course, slugger Giancarlo Stanton leads the team with 14.
But much of Miami’s offensive gains seem to be unsustainable. Some improvement has been fueled by the success of second-year outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich and the health of Stanton, but many of their hitters have succeeded with luck. Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, and Adeiny Hechavarria are all enjoying batting averages on balls in play far above their career levels, indicating that they have been quite fortunate. Chance appears to be the reason why these three players, who were all below replacement level according to Fangraphs’ WAR in their last MLB season (McGehee spent 2013 in Japan), have combined to produce 1.7 wins above replacement as we near the one-third mark of the season.
Meanwhile, the Nationals’ offense has scuffled after a hot start. Injuries to big hitters Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam LaRoche are obvious causes, but Lady Luck has been unkind as well. While Miami enjoys the third-best team BABIP in baseball, the Nationals are 17th despite the fact that they make hard contact the most of any team in baseball, according to ESPN’s Mark Simon.
Specifically, Jayson Werth has been victimized the most. Simon tweets that Werth ranks seventh in MLB in hard-hit ball rate, but has the 11th-lowest batting average when hitting it hard, likely due to bad luck.
Another quirk of Miami’s season is their strange home/road split. The Marlins currently have the best home record (20-8) and the worst road record (6-17) in the majors. Despite their overall offensive success, which is significantly higher in the rankings than the Nationals’, on the road their offense seems to disappear. They average 3.4 runs per game in unfamiliar ballparks. They have a .232/.296/.376 slash line while away, which ranks 23rd, 22nd and 17th.
But the Nationals’ home offensive splits are only marginally better than the Marlins’ away stats. .246/.312/.358, ranking 22nd, 21st, and 27th.
The difference lies in the pitching. At home Nats pitchers have a second-best 2.44 ERA. While away, the Marlins pitchers have a 4.86 ERA. A shaky Marlins staff will be a huge boon to the Nationals, who are 20-1 when scoring four or more runs and, conversely, just 4-24 when limited to three or fewer runs by opposing pitchers.
In a nutshell: The Nationals should win this series. They have owned the Marlins over the last year, and their meeting at home heightens their advantage. However, the Nats seem to have a knack for losing matchups they are suited to win, so the outcome will ultimately depend on if the team performs up to their ability or not.
In The Zone
Denard Span (CF) .382 AVG, .417 OBP, .588 SLG, 1 HR, 4 RBI (last seven games)
Garrett Jones (1B) .421 AVG, .478 OBP, .895 SLG, 2 HR, 6 RBI (last six games)
Marcell Ozuna (CF) .318 AVG, .400 OBP, .727 SLG, 3 HR, 9 RBI (last six games)
Christian Yelich (LF) .200 AVG, .310 OBP, .320 SLG, 4 BB, 4 SO (last six games)
Casey McGehee (3B) .182 AVG, .308 OBP, .182 SLG, 4 BB, 4 SO (last six games)
5/26, Tanner Roark (3-2, 3.42 ERA, .232 BAA, 42 SO, 15 BB) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (3-2, 3.41 ERA, .273 BAA, 52 SO, 13 BB)
5/27, Blake Treinen (0-2, 1.56 ERA, .301 BAA, 13 SO, 7 BB) vs. Henderson Alvarez (2-3, 3.21 ERA, .282 BAA, 38 SO, 16 BB)
5/28, Jordan Zimmermann (3-2, 3.95 ERA, .299 BAA, 47 SO, 12 BB) vs. Tom Koehler (4-4, 3.10 ERA, .212 BAA, 40 SO, 24 BB
This post was contributed to by Andrew Flax from the press box, and by Erin Flynn from daycare.