Needless to say, the month of August has not been kind to the Marlins.
Last night's loss marks the fifth straight game the Fish have dropped, as they still linger in the background of an increasingly competitive NL Wild Card race. Now 3.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second spot, the Marlins have only mustered 10 wins in the month of August, posting 18 losses in the process. The games have all been shockingly close too, as the last game the Marlins played that was decided by more than three runs was all the way back on August 6th. Their sweep of the Pirates in the middle of the month is looking like the sole series keeping the Marlins in contention as the calendar turns to September.
Tonight's game continued the trend of disappointment.
After a 6th inning home run by Christian Yelich to tie the game at 2-2, A.J. Ramos collapsed in the bottom of the eighth inning, allowing a three-run double down the line to long time Braves outfielder Kelly Johnson. Jeurys Familia then locked down a perfect ninth for his 44th save of the season.
Jake Esch - 4.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
Bartolo Colon - 7 IP, 7 H, 1 ER (2 R), 0 BB, 3 K
Overshadowed by this disappointing loss was the major league debut of Jake Esch.
Receiving the spot start after David Phelps was placed on the DL earlier yesterday with an oblique injury, Esch couldn't get through five innings, but escaped some major trouble to keep the Marlins in the game early.
The 6'4" righty, drafted in the 11th round in 2011, had a 4.92 FIP in 23.1 innings at the AAA level this season, yet has shown flashes of stability with valuably efficient starts throughout his career. His repertoire consists of a fastball in the low 90s, a changeup, and his best pitch, a slider that sits in the 83-86 window. Of the 71 pitches thrown on the night, 41 were strikes, while one of the biggest was a slider to Bartolo Colon which turned into a double play, keeping the game at a one run deficit. His next pitch, a slider to Jose Reyes, got Esch out of the inning in the fourth. Nothing friendlier than three outs on two consecutive pitches in your major league debut.
Unfortunately for Esch, control was an issue for most of the night, as only the first inning went smoothly for him. In the second he surrendered a two-run homer to Wilmer Flores, two more singles, and his first double play ball off the bat of Bartolo Colon. In the third, Esch surrendered consecutive walks to the heart of the Mets order, but was able to strand both after a spectacular catch from Marcell Ozuna in center (more on that later). Then his conundrum in the fourth ensued, followed by a Cespedes single in the fifth which ousted him from the game.
Overall, I have to give props to Esch for starting on a huge stage like New York. He likely threw without much notice and pitched great with runners on to keep the Marlins in the game. With that being said, I would argue Esch looked a bit overmatched, even against a weak lineup like the Mets (OPS of .724 is 22nd in the majors).
The best path for him to increase his floor as a back end rotation arm would be further seasoning at the AA or AAA level to work on the development of his off speed pitches. Lasting in the MLB with an average fastball and only one decent off speed pitch (I would argue his slider) is an extremely tough task for a pitcher of Esch's caliber. I'll be looking forward to see Esch again in a few years, but for the time being, I don't think he'll aid them in any way towards an NL Wild Card bid. I went over Esch a little bit more in my game preview if you desire a little bit more of a read on the 26 year old righty (the Curveball I mention there is actually a Slider!).
Bartolo Colon on the other hand continued his success against the Marlins over the last two season. Now with two good starts against the Marlins this season, he adds to his four wins in six starts versus the 2015 Marlins (2.49 ERA). Nothing has really changed for Bartolo repertoire-wise either. He continued to pound the zone tonight, throwing well above 50% of his pitches for strikes (72 of 101), and inducing a lot of contact with no walks and only three strikeouts. A likely reason Colon got through seven innings as well was him being left on the on-deck circle in the bottom of the sixth. With a runner on in that spot, Terry Collins likely would have went to a bench bat, but instead Colon eclipsed 100 pitches for the fourth time this month. Colon continues to stymie the Marlins with his command and lack of velocity, something I never thought I would be able to say after seeing the likes Jered Weaver and company fail time and time again.
Every time I have seen Colon pitch of late, there seems to be a few bats in the opposing lineup that time him very well, posting hits all night and others that just can't get the barrel to his two-seamer. Unfortunately tonight, those hitters only created two runs and five of the seven hits.
Bats still Quiet
J.T. Realmuto - 3-for-4, 2B, K
Christian Yelich - 2-for-4, HR
Even with a hittable Bartolo Colon on the mound, the Marlins managed only seven hits through nine innings, with two going for extra bases (Realmuto's double and Yelich's HR). The Marlins have only scored eight runs over their last five games, which clearly is a culprit for the five straight losses. Even though Giancarlo Stanton wasn't the most productive hitter for the Marlins this season, you can't help but think a force in the middle of the lineup with that much power caused the bats around him to prosper a little bit more than they are now.
The strongest performances of the night were those extra base hits from J.T. Realmuto and Christian Yelich. Realmuto had three hits and a double, while Yelich singled and tied the game with a wall-scraping homer to left in the sixth.
Marcell Ozuna was removed in the bottom of the third inning from the game after a diving catch saved at least a run. Rolling his glove-hand wrist on the play was enough to end his 0-for-2 night at the plate a little bit early. At the moment it looks like he has sprained that wrist, and will likely miss the next few games as wrist injuries tend to linger for hitter - see Myers, Wil.
A.J. Ramos imploded in the bottom of the eighth inning after breaking up the tie game on a two out, bases loaded double down the line to Kelly Johnson on a 3-2 slider in on his hands. Even though it wasn't the hardest hit ball, Ramos failed the entire inning to instill confidence in a big spot to Marlins fans. While this wasn't something fans had to say for most of the year as Ramos racked up 32 saves, his role as an eighth inning stud is in question and my mind keeps thinking there is something wrong health-wise or the eighth inning simply isn't his spot.
The most annoying fact is that Ramos got two outs after giving up back-to-back baserunners before walking d'Arnaud and then giving up the double to Johnson. With seemingly little fastball confidence or command, Ramos resorted to heavy use of his slider, which he couldn't particularly command well either but was able to keep off the center of the plate. This is a very unfortunate time for the Marlins' bullpen to look shaky, but something Mattingly and company will have to deal with going forward.
Tomorrow the Marlins take on a much tougher opponent in Jacob deGrom, attempting to avoid the four-game sweep on the road, and their sixth straight loss.
Hero of the Game: Christian Yelich (+.188 WPA)
Zero of the Game: A.J. Ramos (-.378 WPA)
Play of the Game: Kelly Johnson's 3-RBI double in the bottom of the 8th inning (+.348 WPA)