Fish Cap: Marlins 7, Nationals 10

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 18: Relief pitcher Mike Dunn #40 of the Miami Marlins stands on the mound after giving up an RBI double to Jeff Baker #3 of the Chicago Cubs scoring Geovany Soto #18 and Darwin Barney #15 during the seventh inning at Wrigley Field on July 18, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)


Source: FanGraphs

Attendance: 33,349
Hero of the Game: Jose Reyes (0.245 WPA)
Goat of the Game: Mike Dunn (-0.850 WPA)
Play of the Game: Danny Espinosa homers in the eighth inning off of Mike Dunn. Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore score. (-0.371 WPA)

There were a few talking points being built up in this game. The Miami Marlins took advantage of a number of Washington Nationals mishaps and a blown call or two to somehow put up six runs in seven innings on the Nats. Starting pitcher Mark Buehrle threw another questionable performance on the mound, going six innings but walking two batters with only two strikeouts to his name while allowing two homers to Adam LaRoche. The Nationals struggled to get Marlins batters out despite the Fish running out perhaps their worst lineup of the season.

Yet, at the end of the day, the only real storyline that will matter is Mike Dunn. Mike flippin' Dunn and another enormous bullpen meltdown that transitioned a 6-4 eight inning lead to a 10-6 deficit in just 10 minutes' time.

Dunn Implosion

There is nothing to this game ultimately other than Dunn's epic eighth inning implosion. It all started fairly innocuously, as Dunn retired Mike Morse on a grounder and faced Adam LaRoche, the one of two Nationals' true lefties in their lineup. It looked like we were heading for an easy inning, as LaRoche, who had hit two homers earlier, rolled over a pitch and sent an easy grounder to first baseman Carlos Lee. Lee flipped the ball to Dunn on the cover, but Dunn inexplicably dropped the ball and allowed LaRoche on base.

According to the Hardball Times's WPA Inquirer, in a four run per game environment, the difference in win percentage between Dunn converting that out and dropping the ball is a difference of about 8.5 percent to the Nationals. With just one glove flub, the Marlins gave the Nationals an 8.5 percent infusion of life in this close ball game.

What followed was a nightmare of events.

Jayson Werth walked (-0.077 WPA for the Marlins). Kurt Suzuki struck out (+0.088) on a high fastball, but Fish Stripes regular Jigokusabre said some ominous words as Dunn worked the count against Suzuki.

Dunn keeps throwing the ball up high...

That seems to bode ill.

It certainly did, as the next batter, Lombardozzi, singled into center field and brought home LaRoche (-0.123 WPA). There was a questionable call there that went against the Marlins, as LaRoche appeared on replay to have missed touching home plate on the scoring play. Catcher John Buck bumped LaRoche on the way home in an attempt to make the tag, but he only brushed him slightly off the plate, perhaps knocking his foot inches away from touching home. Nevertheless, the game had become a 6-5 affair.

Before the single, Marlins play-by-play commentator Rich Waltz wondered if Dunn would be pulled in favor of de-facto closer Steve Cishek were he to continue to struggle. Sure enough, manager Ozzie Guillen began warming Cishek up. Lombardozzi singled and it left the Marlins with that decision to make. The Nationals sent in Tyler Moore, a strictly right-handed batter, to pinch-hit for the pitcher. It is at this point, with Cishek ready to come in, that one might figure Guillen would go to his closer for an extra out. Dunn had walked a batter and allowed a single, but he also recorded a strikeout; the primary problem was that he was facing an opposite-handed hitter with the team's closer having the platoon advantage against the hitter.

Guillen opted to keep Dunn, and Moore made him pay with a line drive single that scored Jayson Werth (-0.340 WPA) and tied the game. At this point, color commentator Tommy Hutton said that the Marlins cannot bring Cishek into the game, presumably because the game is tied and he may be needed to close out a future lead.

That proved to be meaningless after Danny Espinosa broke the backs of Marlins fans everywhere with a no-doubter three-run homer over the visitors' bullpen in left field (-0.371 WPA). Dunn had given up the lead and allowed a lead to the Nationals, and that was only compounded by Bryce Harper, who followed with a solo shot of his own (-0.015 WPA).

At the start of the inning, the Marlins had an 86.1 percent chance of winning the game. It got as high as 89.9 percent. By the end of the inning, the Marlins had a 1.1 percent chance of winning, thanks in most part to Mike Dunn's botched error and subsequent out-of-control pitching.

Breaks and We Still Can't Win

The Marlins had to be heartbroken in this one, especially considering how much help they received to even take a lead in this game. The Marlins benefited from two Danny Espinosa errors on decently easy plays to first base; both plays directly led to runs. Steve Lombardozzi was charged with an error that also helped the Marlins score. Jose Reyes got away with changing a strikeout into a foul ball on a pitch in the dirt, and he later walked and scored.

This tells you something about the quality of the team's lineup. The Marlins did all that they could and got most of the game's breaks, yet the team still was defeated, this time by a horrific inning by Dunn.

Guillen's Reasoning

I wanted to hear Guillen's reasoning for not putting in Cishek, the team's most trusted reliever at this point, with the game on the line in either a tied game or before that with the game 6-5. It turns out Guillen's reasoning was the old closer / save rule routine.

There was some strategic controversy too in the inning. Closer Steve Cishek was warming up, but Guillen opted to stick with a laboring Dunn to face Lombardozzi and Moore.

Guillen noted he preferred Dunn against those lefties rather than go with Cishek against a lefty pinch-hitter, likely Roger Bernadina in place of Moore.

"If I bring this kid [Cishek] with the game on the line, then I don't have anybody for a tie game in the ninth," Guillen added.

Lombardozzi is a switch-hitter, and Moore may have been pinch-hit for, sure. But at that point, Guillen basically said he trusted Dunn versus a righty more than Cishek versus a lefty, and that seems odd given that Cishek is presumably the better pitcher, as he is the closer. In addition, the reasoning that the team needed to manager for a future situation rather than finding the best solution to the current want also seems like hogwash.

The Marlins found a way to lose a game, this time on the back of an epic Dunn collapse. But as Guillen puts it, this has become routine for the team, and that is all too telling of the ails of the 2012 Miami Marlins.

"It's not tough," a distraught Miami manager Ozzie Guillen said. "The way we've played all year long, it's a regular, normal game for us. We find a way to lose, no matter what. I guess you've got to get used to it, whether you're a coach or manager. Very, very, weird, funny the way we've been playing."

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