In baseball there are only two outcomes: a win or a loss. Today we celebrate a win, but it feels different. It feels special. This is the first time since 2014 that we have celebrated an Opening Day win, and I believe it restores faith in the Marlins fan base that has persevered through tough times. The tides have begun to turn in Miami and Major League Baseball has begun to take notice that this isn’t the fire sale Loria Marlins or the star-studded lineup that couldn’t crack a winning record. It’s a new era that is on the brink of success, and if the history of the Marlins can tell you anything, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected.
The star of the show Friday night was the Opening Day starter Sandy Alcantara. He wasn’t the same pitcher that he was at the end of last season: he was even better. The fastball was on point and the 98 MPH sinker was debilitating veteran batters. The command on the changeup at time was spotty, but he would quickly recover with his vast arsenal of pitches. He pitched with confidence and you could see it on his face. His goal wasn’t only to get you out, but it was to show that he will dominate you in the strike zone. His one blunder was on a Didi Gregorius home run, but if you watch closely you could actually visibly see his frustration on the pitch prior. Perhaps he overcorrected on the next pitch and the veteran shortstop made him pay. One run allowed though 6 2⁄3 against a tough lineup like Philadelphia is a phenomenal Opening Day performance.
Sandy Alcantara: incredible— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) July 25, 2020
6.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR (87 pitches) pic.twitter.com/7O2y3MfXDH
The Jesús Aguilar HR was the lone home run for the team, but the Marlins offense is going to be pesky even when they aren’t hitting the long bomb. The roster is constructed to be tough opposition throughout the lineup. I believe as the season continues and the lineup is constructed with more speed over power, the team identity will change with it. In the era of the long ball, the Marlins may be constructing a roster of .275 BA/25 HR hitters throughout the lineup.
The other story of the night was the loss of Jorge Alfaro, possibly due to COVID-19. It is unlikely that this will be the last game day COVID related IL stint, but it highlighted the importance of the Francisco Cervelli signing this offseason. The loss of Alfaro leaves Cervelli and Wallach to hold down the backstop until his return, and without the veteran backstop on the roster, I believe the fan base would have begun to panic.
- Veteran hitters like Villar, Aguilar, and Dickerson are something the Marlins have been lacking for a couple years. They have the ability to work counts and force the pitcher to grind as they wait for a mistake. Whether this team makes the playoffs or not will likely hinge on their success.
- Isan Díaz looked overmatched with 3 strikeouts and I am concerned. It is only Game 1 of 60 and nerves can get to you on Opening Day, but the same flaws from last year remain. Don Mattingly can’t afford to have a weakness for too long in the season and the prospects in the outfield will force him to make a decision if the development isn’t made fast enough.
- Miguel Rojas quietly had a productive night in the 9th hole gathering two hits and a free pass. The same shortstop we saw for the opener will be the same one we see on Game 60 of the season. Good contact paired with good defense and veteran leadership. When Mattingly was asked about his lineup placement he responded, “Rojas is likely to remain there unless Jon Berti is in the lineup.”
- Jesús Aguilar hit a 2-R HR on his Marlins debut. After the game, he was asked about his approach on the final at bat versus Nola and he said he wanted to focus on locating and punish the offspeed pitch.
- The Marlins hitting philosophy of being aggressive will be a double-edged sword at times. Going through the 5th Nola was only sitting at 60 pitches and a veteran pitcher with more stamina could make the Marlins pay for quick at bats in earlier innings. I will be interested in seeing tomorrows matchup with Zack Wheeler, who has the ability to dominate if he is able to maintain his velocity into later innings.
- Michael Hill was brought onto the broadcast in the 3rd inning and was asked about the potential arrival of Sixto Sánchez. He brought up the importance of developmental time and the loss of the minor league season has set players back. Eventually we will see Sixto Sanchez take the mound—when exactly that happens is to be determined by injuries or trades. I would be interested to see if they gave him a long relief roster spot like Nick Neidert.
The Marlins have only completed one game and we have 59 more games that no doubt will be filled with unpredictability. Considering that there’s an expanded playoff field for 2020, it isn’t too early to dream of the Fish crashing the party. I don’t know what Saturday’s game will bring, but I can tell you that this Marlins team is one you can rally behind.
Marlins vs. Phillies box score (Baseball Theater)