Boy, how times changes in one week.
Last week, I was discussing whether the Miami Marlins were real or not in this very space, thanks to the team riding high on a 5-2 week despite a series-capping loss to the San Diego Padres. A week later, the Fish were swept twice in a row by the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies, they sit 5-8 on the year, and have seven straight losses to their name. Clearly, the answer to the question of their "reality" is a resounding "no," right?
Probably. But just how bad did things get this week?
Run Differential Flip
The Marlins entered the week with a league-best +21 run differential, thanks to a blowout win on Opening Night and a couple of convincing affairs versus the Padres and Colorado Rockies. The polar opposite happened in this past week, as two blowouts at the hands of the Nationals left the Fish well behind in run differential. The Marlins scored 18 runs this week, a far cry from their 42 from the first week. They also let through 37 runs, for a -19 run differential.
It was an ugly week, though it was difficult to tell which parts were more disappointing. In the first series, Miami struggled to get anything accomplished against Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, and in their one chance to pull away with a win, the team's bullpen let them down with a series of ugly performances. Miami's offense did at least get to Jordan Zimmermann, who was knocked out before the end of the fourth inning. But the other two Washignton starts were lopsided affairs that ended a lot less competitively.
The Phillies series was a completely different tale. As expected in battles between two evenly-matched teams, the Marlins and Phillies were fairly close throughout their three games. Jose Fernandez couldn't hold off Philly in a three-run fifth inning that ended up being the difference in the first game. The second and third contests were one-run finishes in which Miami's bullpen failed to deliver while the offense could not capitalize. Still, the team could have won either the second or third game; Miami's furious comeback led by Giancarlo Stanton's home run put the team close enough to win the second, while the Fish did not dip under 30 percent win expectancy in the third game until Chase Utley homered in the eighth.
So it was difficult to say which of the two series was more disappointing. The Nationals blew out Miami, but the close Phillies games were both encouraging and heartbreaking.
You may have heard mention of the bullpen in the last few paragraphs, and their inclusion was critical. In the first week, Miami's pen went over 20 innings and gave up just two runs. No matter how good the team's pen performance was, that sort of clip was simply unsustainable, and the second week showed that clearly. The pen went for 20 innings this past week, but gave up an astonishing 16 runs (12 earned). The culprits included the folks who contributed to the messy performance in the team's 10-7 blown loss to the Nationals (4 2/3 innings, seven runs allowed, three strikeouts, two walks) and the performance by Mike Dunn over the week (four innings, six strikeouts, two walks, three runs allowed).
This reflects the simple nature of bullpen performance: one team's great fortune out of the pen early can easily turn into rubble the next week. Bullpens are too finicky to expect consistent performance, especially when the team is turning to inconsistent, high-variance performers like Carlos Marmol and Dunn. It does not help that the Fish barely turned to their best reliever in a week when their relief corps was being demolished; Steve CIshek threw just one inning out of 20 available ones total.
The Marlins did not get great help from their starting pitching either, As expected, Brad Hand and Tom Koehler struggled in their starts, so the team could not find any luck from their back-end rotation. But the odd occurrence was the terrible start by Jose Fernandez, who gave up four walks and six runs with six strikeouts in four innings in the first Philly game. In a winnable affair against an apparently ailing A.J. Burnett, the Marlins could not capitalize with a decent performance from their most reliable starter.
The only starter who put up a decent performance on the week was Nathan Eovaldi, who got unlucky to give up four runs on seven hits after he struck out five in his six innings. Eovaldi has now gone 19 1/3 innings with 19 strikeouts, one walk (and one hit batsmen), and one homer allowed, yet his ERA is at an uncharacteristic 4.19, His staggering peripherals are promising, but the Marlins have yet to help him prevent runs.
Miami will have to keep trucking on. Overall, the team still has a run differential of a .500-ish squad, so that is promising. The offense, aside from the two Washington games against elite starters, did not actually slump all that badly. The team still has a chance to get back at the Nationals starting tonight, and they will throw Fernandez out in that final start for what should hopefully be a comeback performance. But Miami's ugly week brought all of the good that the team experienced in the first week crashing down to mediocrity, and it was a difficult, if valuable lesson on the hard times we may expect in 2014.