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Braves pull away with sixth-inning explosion, take series opener, 9-2

Ozzie Albies stuns Drew Steckenrider with grand slam, overshadowing bright spots from Marlins rookies.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time this week, the Marlins came out on the wrong end of a lopsided final score, falling 9-2 to the Braves on Thursday night. But unlike recent blowout losses to the Cubs, this one was a second-guesser’s delight, where a couple big swings turned a compelling pitchers’ duel on its head.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly was away from the team due to a death in the family. In his place, Tim Wallach filled out a fairly typical lineup. They struggled against hard-throwing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K), who allowed only one unearned run on a Martín Prado single.

Fortunately, Caleb Smith was up to the challenge. As we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him since late April, the impressive rookie challenged his opponents early in the count (19 first-pitch strikes to 24 batters).

Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies had a huge impact on the game. He led off with a strikeout, but even that built up Smith’s workload. Albies forced the starter to use 24 total pitches in their three matchups with plenty of foul balls and close takes.

Fast-forward to the sixth inning with the score tied 1-1. Wallach warmed up setup man Drew Steckenrider and brought him in for Smith after a runner reached first base with one out. Steck retired José Bautista with a foul pop-up, bringing No. 8 hitter Johan Camargo to the plate. He had entered the night in a 1-for-19 slump.

Looking ahead to the bottom of the inning (instead of focusing on escaping the jam). Wallach called for the intentional walk. That forced the Braves to pinch-hit for Foltynewicz to keep the rally alive.

Problem is, that pinch-hitter—Preston Tuckerdid extend the rally with a walk, flipping over the lineup to the dangerous Albies. Then, things fell apart:

Those are the first home runs that Steckenrider has allowed to left-handed batters in his major league career. His 2018 earned run average nearly quadrupled from 1.08 to 4.24. Once the sixth-inning carnage finally let up, the Braves scored more runs (seven) than the Marlins have scored in every sixth inning combined this season (six).

Not to be overlooked with the game already out of reach, right-hander Elieser Hernandez made his MLB debut, pitching two scoreless innings in relief of Steckenrider. The Fish acquired Hernandez in December’s Rule 5 draft, but injuries delayed his ascension to the active roster. Then in the bottom of the ninth, Lewis Brinson smashed his first-ever Marlins Park home run. It had a projected distance of 414 feet, according to Statcast.

Next up on Friday night, the probable starters are Brandon McCarthy (4.84 ERA, 4.58 FIP in 35.1 IP) and Dan Straily (6.75 ERA, 10.29 FIP in 8.0 IP). These veterans actually worked together in the Oakland Athletics rotation way back in 2012.

With another loss, the Marlins would tie their longest losing streak of the season (five straight from 4/19-4/23).

Win probability chart courtesy of FanGraphs

Kingfish: Ozzie Albies (.307 WPA)

Flounder: Drew Steckenrider (-.470)

Play of the Game: the Albies grand slam, duh (.376)

Attendance: 8,277

Please leave any Icthy picks in the comments below. Remember, we just introduced a new grand prize for the contest this season!

Today's Lineups

Ozzie Albies - 2B J.T. Realmuto - C
Ronald Acuna - LF Martin Prado - 3B
Freddie Freeman - 1B Starlin Castro - 2B
Nick Markakis - RF Justin Bour - 1B
Kurt Suzuki - C Brian Anderson - RF
Ender Inciarte - CF Derek Dietrich - LF
Jose Bautista - 3B Miguel Rojas - SS
Johan Camargo - SS Lewis Brinson - CF
Mike Foltynewicz - RHP Caleb Smith - LHP

5/10/18 Pitching Matchup

Name Team IP ERA FIP K/9 fWAR
Name Team IP ERA FIP K/9 fWAR
Caleb Smith Marlins 34.1 3.67 3.37 12.58 0.7
Mike Foltynewicz Braves 37.0 3.65 3.71 10.46 0.5

Matchup Summary

The surprise NL East-leading Braves (21-14) have arrived in Miami for a four-game series that begins on Thursday night. Coming off a frustrating trip to Chicago, the Marlins (13-23) turn to their hottest starting pitcher, KKKKKKKKaleb Smith.

It’s a fascinating strength-vs.-strength matchup. Atlanta batters enter with 279 strikeouts this season, the lowest total for any National League team. Smith, on the other hand, is dominating lately. With a new emphasis on attacking the strike zone, he’s emerging as the unlikely ace of Miami’s rotation.

From Smith and Brian Anderson to Ozzie Albies and presumptive NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ronald Acuña Jr., there will an abundance of exciting young talent on the field. Lean back, grab a snack and enjoy the game with us!

Fish Stripes original GIF

Thread Question: The Marlins announced new details about next month’s 25th anniversary celebration. Which former players should they bring to the ballpark that weekend?