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Why were the Marlins so bad in interleague play this season?

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In 2021, the Fish posted their lowest-ever winning percentage against American League competition.

Sandy Leon #7 of the Miami Marlins reacts to his strike out in the top of the fifth inning during the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field Photo by Curt Leimbach/Getty Images

I did not expect the Marlins to be contenders in 2021. You probably didn’t, either. And yet, no matter how low we set the bar for them, they’ve repeatedly found creative, often humiliating ways to sink beneath it. The Fish have been impacted by a combination of bad luck on the field and severe, inconveniently timed injuries. Even so, it’s difficult to imagine an alternate universe where they could’ve sniffed the postseason—too many roster deficiencies, not enough urgency at any level of the organization to adjust to adversity.

The Marlins struggled in so many different situations, as you can tell from combing through their season splits. Interleague play—which mercifully concluded with the Citrus Series this past weekend—was especially painful for them.

In 25 seasons of regularly scheduled National League vs. American League matchups, this is the worst the Marlins have ever done. They played 20 games and lost 17 of them, just one year removed from splitting interleague play, 10-10, against those same AL East opponents. They failed to win a single series.

Baseball-Reference

The vast majority of these games were played before the trade deadline. Potential excuses such as “they were depleted of talent” or “not trying to win” don’t hold water.

Their most notorious interleague defeats included:

  • April 1 (TBR 1, MIA 0)—Sandy Alcantara’s Opening Day gem wasted; Jesús Aguilar’s would-be game-tying home run dies on the warning track
  • April 2 (TBR 6, MIA 4)—Anthony Bass blows his first save opportunity as Marlins closer
  • May 28 (MIA 2, BOS 5)—Starling Marte makes his return from a fractured rib, but doesn’t get enough help
  • June 2 (MIA 5, TOR 6)—Arguably the worst outing of Yimi García’s Marlins career; first time since 2014 that the franchise lost a game despite hitting four home runs
  • July 28 (MIA 7, BAL 8)—Bullpen and defense implode, botching a potential sweep against the tanking Orioles
  • September 25 (MIA 3, TBR 7)—Marlins players watch helplessly as their in-state rival Rays celebrate another division title
The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their victory over the Miami Marlins at Tropicana Field Photo by Curt Leimbach/Getty Images

Interleague play expanded to 20 games per team after the Astros switched leagues in 2013. Miami’s .150 winning percentage is tied with the 2019 Blue Jays and 2020 Pirates for the lowest mark league-wide in any season since then.

You wouldn’t know it from looking at how Marlins pitchers performed! They combined for a 4.22 earned run average, essentially the same as MLB’s overall 4.20 ERA during interleague this season.

Meanwhile, the Marlins didn’t field the ball up to their usual standards. Bass, García and others in the bullpen were unreliable in high-leverage spots. And the main culprit was the impotent Marlins offense, which averaged barely three runs per game against the AL—unsurprisingly, that ranked dead last in the majors.

MLB is expected to implement a universal DH for 2022 as part of the sport’s new collective bargaining agreement. Lineup depth will take on added importance for NL clubs. Even with encouraging late-season showings from the likes of Jesús Sánchez, Lewin Díaz, Bryan De La Cruz and Nick Fortes, it’s obvious that the Marlins must explore ways to acquire additional, more experienced bats to prevent a repeat of this record-setting embarrassment.