What a difference a few days makes.
The Miami Marlins were looking lost at 1-5 after their weekend series versus the Tampa Bay Rays. Three days later, they are coming off a relatively successful three-game series against the Atlanta Braves, the same Braves that started the year undefeated and swept the Marlins in their first three games at Marlins Park. The Fish came out like gangbusters in the last two games of the series and, for the three-game set, the team outscored the Braves 16-7.
So what went right for the Marlins in this smallest of samples? A few things of interest occurred.
They Scored Runs
Sometimes it's not any more complicated than that. The Marlins actually hit the baseball reasonably well this time around, scoring 16 runs in three games, 14 of which came in the final two games of the series. Those two games in particular did have a few offensive highlights of importance. On the positive end, the Marlins managed to get on base a fairly good amount. The team walked six times versus eight strikeouts in the second game and four times versus five strikeouts yesterday, meaning that they worked the Braves pitchers and gave themselves plenty of baserunners even if the hits were not falling.
Of course, the hits were falling, as Miami gathered 19 hits in those two games. Of note, the team got its runs by bunching up those hits and walks a fair amount. In the third game of the series, Miami only pulled off two innings in which it managed a single baserunner and did not score (there was one inning in which their lone baserunner was a Michael Morse home run). The second game was so loaded with baserunners (17 in total) that there were only two innings in which Miami mustered one or fewer baserunners.
The club hit much better with runners in scoring position, thus capitalizing on the situations they had, but that is not really the driving point. Miami got on base a lot, and that in and of itself is going to lead to runs. The fact that the Fish also hit well situationally this series led to the outpouring of runs, but those runs would have come around one way or another with the way the Fish were getting on base.
Slightly Better Starting Pitching
The starting pitching was not impressive, but they pitched better as a whole than in the previous series. It likely helped that none of them hurt themselves during their time on the mound, unlike in the Tampa series. In each of the three starts, the pitchers who started things off at least kept Miami in the game. For the second straight time, the best pitcher in a three-game set was Dan Haren, who pulled out a very solid seven innings of work and struck out five batters while walking just two. In two starts, Haren is up to seven strikeouts and two walks to his name, which would be excellent if it were not for the three home runs he has allowed. He likely is not going to continue holding back baserunners like he did yesterday, but the early starts are a positive sign.
Another positive sign was the performance of Mat Latos from the first game of the series. Latos was not impressive by any means, but he managed to stave off a disastrous start and pitched well through four innings. He could not get out of the fifth inning and was beginning to struggle at the tail end of the fourth, but his performance overall was significantly better than the ugly first outing. He struck out five batters and walked three, which is a sign of improvement. More on his two starts early this year later this week.
Slap Hitters Arise!
The Marlins got a great performance out of Giancarlo Stanton, who smacked three hits and walked twice in five plate appearances in the team's second game, but it was the surprising work of the two slap hitters on the offensive side that drove Miami in the series. Dee Gordon continues to be on fire from the Tampa series, as he collected five hits, one walk, and three stolen bases against the Braves. Gordon's stellar work in the series is largely a nice fluky hot streak, but it is nice to see him at least avoiding the strikeout; Gordon whiffed just once in 15 plate appearances during the series. Given his glaring lack of power, strikeouts are the bane of his existence, so contact is a must for Gordon's success.
Adeiny Hechavarria had a nice series, but it was capped off by an excellent game yesterday against Eric Stults and the rest of the Braves staff. Rarely do we talk about Hechavarria's mostly-absent power, but he showed off why his swing at least appears to be effective in hitting a homer as part of a 3-for-3 day at the plate.
It was a hell of a mistake pitch, a hanging curveball drifting middle-inside of the plate and right at the waist, but Hechavarria took what is typically a long swing and instead ripped it through the zone in a hurry, generating a lot of power. Every once in a while, you see that nice, compact swing and you think there could be some power to it. As of right now, these sorts of swings are still unexpected sources of good for Miami, but it was nice to see both the slap hitters on the offense deliver good hacks at the plate.
Almost none of this is indicative of future success, just like the observations from a few days ago are also unlikely to yield success. However, after the first week Miami suffered through, I think we will take any positives we can find. Hopefully the Marlins keep that going into their next set against the New York Mets.