It was one of the most disappointing days of the season.
Making up a game that technically happened on April 11, looking to put away a ghost that haunted them all season, the Marlins held a 5-1 lead in the ninth inning.
They ended up using three pitchers in that inning, none of which could get the final out, and lost 6-5 in embarrassing fashion.
They followed that up with an uninspiring 3-1 loss later that day, and would get swept in a doubleheader by their division rival, the New York Mets.
After a day off due to rain in the New York area—forcing the Marlins into another doubleheader with the Mets later this month—it is time to turn the page.
The good news for the Marlins is they have just the man on the mound to help do so.
Sandy Alcantara has been the ace of the Marlins staff all season, and has come through time and time again with a big performance when they need it most. Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Alcantara coming through in big spots is nothing new for the ace of his staff.
“I would argue further back than just this year,” Mattingly said. “You feel like there’s been many games when your bullpen needs a breather or something, and you got Sandy on the mound and in general, other than a couple of starts, you can kind of pencil him in for six [innings] for sure and a lot of times seven and possibly eight.”
Alcantara has also never pitched better in his life than he is right now. He made six starts in August, and when you remove the one outlier blowup in Colorado his numbers were stunning. In the other five starts, Alcantara had a 1.00 ERA and 47 strikeouts compared to just seven walks in 36 innings pitched.
His last two starts may have been the best of his career, with back-to-back performances in which he notched 11 and 12 strikeouts, setting a new career high in both.
Alcantara enters his 28th start of the season with a 3.27 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 165.1 innings, the fourth most innings in all of Major League Baseball this season. 2021 has been Alcantara’s best season by nearly every major measure.
The Marlins will begin September, the final full month of the season, hoping to find some consistent offense to finish off the year. The team had just 92 wRC+ in August, 21st in the league, and have just 88 wRC+ on the season, which is 25th in all of baseball.
One bright spot on offense in August was rookie Jazz Chisholm Jr., who will look to finish the 2021 season strong in September. An interesting storyline to watch the rest of the season will be whether Jazz can put together a 20-20 season, as he currently has 14 home runs and 18 stolen bases.
Mattingly said he is looking for Chisholm Jr. to finish strong by tightening his routines and finding more consistency.
“The sky is kind of the limit for Jazz,” Mattingly said. “It’s really important I think for guys who played through the full season, you find out if a guy just drops off in that last month because if he’s tired it’s one thing, but if it’s just lack of focus it’s another. So I just want Jazz to finish it off strong, continue to make adjustments, continue to improve.”
Chisholm Jr. slashed .250/.316/.462 after returning from a short IL stint due to illness on August 13, with 3 HR, 5 SB and 114 wRC+ over that span.
Another major storyline to follow will be how much fellow rookie Bryan De La Cruz can keep up the success he had in August. De La Cruz slashed .384/.413/.512 with 153 wRC+ in August after coming over from the Astros at the trade deadline for reliever Yimi Garía.
Bryan De La Cruz has flashed every tool in a Marlins uniform. This time, he shows the power. pic.twitter.com/SQeRelks75— Ethan Budowsky (@ethanbudowsky) August 14, 2021
De La Cruz’s astronomical numbers will come back to Earth at some point, but how much it will happen remains to be seen. His .508 batting average on balls in play is simply not sustainable, and suggests he will have at least a slight regression at some point.
However, if De La Cruz has another good month in September, he can make a good case to the Marlins that he deserves a starting outfield spot on Opening Day 2022.
The Marlins will look to pick up their first win of the season’s final month on Thursday, as they try and finish off this disappointing season on a high note. They will have to go .500 (15-15) the rest of the season in order to finish with 70 wins—a threshold they have failed to cross since 2017.