Ronald Acuña Jr. and his teammates celebrated wildly as he crossed the plate for the ninth time in a four game series, giving the Braves a 7-6 win to cap off the series with the Marlins. While it was the ninth time Acuña scored in the four games, it was just the first time the Braves had beaten the Marlins this year.
A big celebration ensued when the Braves salvaged a single game from the four-game series. Despite beating up on the Marlins in recent years, perhaps they’re starting to recognize that nothing should be taken for granted in this increasingly evenly matched rivalry.
Jazz Chisholm Jr. on starting with 3 wins against the Braves: We didn't forget what happened last year in the playoffs. We're coming back with the fire in our eyes. We deserved to be talked about in this league. #JuntosMiami pic.twitter.com/UDe80HoOLn— Brendan Tobin (@Brendan_Tobin) April 15, 2021
The Marlins first four-game series win in Atlanta since 2014 was a statement to the league that the Marlins can compete with the best teams in their division. Manager Don Mattingly used the term “measuring stick” about the Braves a lot this week, saying the three-time reigning NL East champions are still the class of the division, no matter who picks against them this year.
That same sentiment was echoed by players all weekend: until somebody dethrones the Braves, they are the standard in the division and how you compete with them shows how you measure up in the East. The Marlins came into the series knowing what they were up against, but had a belief that they could compete, something they’ve echoed all year in front of the media.
“Everybody knows what kind of team they’ve got, but I think we’ve got a really good team, too,” said first baseman Jesús Aguilar before the series.
It had been a rough go of late for the Marlins against the Braves; they only took three games from the Braves in nine tries last year, and the Braves swept the Marlins out of the NLDS in emphatic fashion.
Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr., who was captivating all series, said after clinching the series in game three “we didn’t forget anything that happened last year, we’re coming back with the fire in our eyes and we’re showing that we deserve to be talked about in this league.”
The Marlins certainly made a statement in their three wins against the Braves, coming from behind twice to win in extra innings and putting 14 runs on their division rivals in between. Even in a loss Thursday, the Marlins showed they are going to scrap and compete with every team they face this year, especially the ones in their division.
After being up 3-0 and on cruise control for most of the series finale, the Braves answered with an Acuña Jr. two run bomb—his third in two games—in the 5th, then a Pablo Sandoval pinch hit three-run homer in the 6th. All of a sudden the Braves had a 5-3 lead. Starling Marte answered in the 7th with a solo home run, but the Marlins went to the 9th down 5-4 and needed some big hits to take the lead.
They got just that.
Miguel Rojas led off the 9th with a walk, then Adam Duvall doubled into right center to tie the game. Garrett Cooper would eventually follow with a single up the middle and all of a sudden the Marlins were back in the lead. The team simply did not lay down this series, and it was that way again on Thursday.
Unfortunately, the bullpen would bite again and Dylan Floro—who had been phenomenal so far this season—gave up two runs and the Braves walked off. Usual closer, Yimi Garcia, was unavailable and the heart of the Braves order got the best of Floro.
The loss will obviously leave a sour taste in the Marlins mouth, but it does not take away from the big step forward the Marlins took by winning this series.
While it is only four out of nineteen games against the Braves this year, it was certainly a statement to compete with them in the fashion the Marlins did—rallying from behind, grinding games out, keeping every game close and even blowing the Braves out in the second game of the series.
They still have a long way to go, but the Marlins certainly surprised this week and proved to a lot of people they can compete. Mattingly even said that the Braves have been taking notice and in conversations with their guys it’s clear they know how much better the Marlins are getting year after year.
This was a big step for the Marlins, and a big first hurdle to clear in the 2021 season. Also, it was great to see players from both teams out there messing around with each other and having fun competing. These are two teams that play with a lot of swagger and energy, and it shows up on the field when they play. It makes for a very watchable product that engenders real intensity from the fanbase as the Marlins get more and more competitive within their division.
How the Marlins can hold up over 162 games remains a serious question, but they made one thing clear this week: they’re not going to make it easy. The Marlins are going to compete because they believe they’re good enough to do so.
After watching them take three of four from the Braves, it might be time we start taking them seriously.