The Miami Marlins stayed close to the defending NL East champion Washington Nationals, and Ricky Nolasco put up a valiant effort against a stacked Nationals lineup, but ultimately the Marlins' offense fell just a bit short. Despite the strong pitching effort from the Fish staff, the Marlins fell 2-0 on Opening Day.
Ricky Nolasco: #minorvictories
The Marlins may have lost, but at least Ricky Nolasco provided the Fish some #minorvictories for his outing. Nolasco looked a little like an ace, or perhaps something like his old 2008 self, in today's game. He struck out five batters in six innings, walked only two, and allowed three of the Nationals' five total hits. If it were not for the fact that two of those hits were these long Bryce Harper bombs, maybe Nolasco looks like a winner in the first game of what should be a difficult 2013 season.
Looking at those pitches, you can see that both were mistakes. The first pitch was a clear hanging breaking ball that was going to be mashed by any decent power hitter, and Harper is a bit better than "decent." The second was what appeared to be a cutter that drifted a little closer to the middle of the plate, but it appeared to end up at the exact same location to which the first pitch went. Both pitches ended up in similar spots, and both were similarly crushed to right field.
Outside of those pitches, Nolasco looked decent. He picked up nine whiffs on 86 pitches, which is a better rate than he has put up in the past two seasons. This kind of strikeout-based performance is more indicative of the old 2009 and 2010 Ricky Nolasco that induced swinging strikes on 10 percent of hitters rather than 8.5 percent. Only 39 of his 86 pitches were inside the strike zone, however, which is not typical of Nolasco's strike-pounding routine. Perhaps he is nibbling more to avoid the home run that has plagued him the last few seasons. Six out of his 15 balls in play that were not bunts went for ground balls, which also is low compared to his previous few seasons. Perhaps he has attempted to shift back to his old pitching style rather the one he adopted in 2011 and 2012.
Marlins Offense Nonexistent
The Marlins may have gotten a decent pitching performance from Nolasco, but it was not enough to overcome their awful hitting performance. The Fish led off the game with a Juan Pierre single and at least were a strong defensive play away from scoring the season's first run. But after Pierre's single, the Marlins were retired 19 times in a row, leading all the way to the seventh inning double by Giancarlo Stanton. The Fish were able to move Pierre to third on "productive" outs, but could not drive him in and fell flat afterwards. It was not even a strong Strasburg effort in the strikeout department either; the Marlins only struck out three times against the ace, and they did so while only swinging and missing on two pitches.
How the awful Marlins offense managed to make so much contact against Strasburg is anyone's guess, but the issue was that the Fish could not get the ball out of the infield. Of those 19 straight outs, three were strikeouts, and of the remaining 16 balls in play, 10 were ground balls. Strasburg suddenly morphed into a ground ball expert rather than a strikeout master, but it was good enough to hold off the Marlins.
One Wasted Opportunity
The Marlins had one shot at runs outside of the first inning, and that came against Strasburg in the seventh inning. Giancarlo Stanton belted a double and moved to third base with one out on a Placido Polanco infield single. Putting runners on first and third allowed for the double play, but it was not a traditional one. Rob Brantly launched a shallow fly ball that was not far enough to bring Stanton home, but was far enough to fool Polanco into a ridiculous rundown situation. Polanco got caught between first and second base and tried to force a rundown that would allow Stanton to score, but the Nationals saw through the accidental ruse attempt and threw out Stanton at home.
The play on its own cost the Marlins 0.164 WPA, meaning the team's chances of winning that game dropped 16.4 percent in one fell swoop. The majority of that has to go to Polanco, given that tagging up to second with two outs is a minor move that is worsened by the outfielder (Bryce Harper, surprise!) having a good arm. A foolish play by Polanco cost the Marlins their lone shot at this game.