It was already the time for urgency for the Miami Marlins. Don Mattingly was straightforward about that before they started the second half of the 2021 MLB season with a seven-game road trip and four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“We all know now we’re heading into that part of the year that we’ve got to be able to string some games together,” Mattingly said. “That’s the main thing is a little bit more, hopefully, urgency.”
This was early Friday, with the Marlins sitting 11 games below .500 and nine games back of the first-place New York Mets in the National League East. This was with only two weeks to go until the trade deadline and the real possibility Miami could sell off some of its best players — veterans like Adam Duvall, Starling Marte and Jesus Aguilar — to prioritize the future.
For Day 1 after the All-Star break, the Marlins will have to settle for just treading water after splitting a doubleheader with the Phillies, capping the two seven-inning games with a 7-0 blowout win Friday in Philadelphia.
After the way Friday began, the split qualifies as a welcome outcome, and carries some positive developments as Miami (40-51) prepares to make a decision about how it will act at the trade deadline later this month.
The good: Trade chips star
All season long, Mattingly has lamented his team’s inconsistency. Despite being last place, the Marlins have the best run differential in the NL East in part because of the random offensive explosions they can be prone to.
In losses, they average only 2.3 runs per game, with 10 shutouts and 11 more one-run performances. They’re just 1-31 when scoring two runs or fewer — and they added one loss in Game 1 against the Phillies (45-45) on Friday.
In wins, they average 6.2 runs per game, including seven games with double-digit runs and three more with nine. They’re 19-4 when they score at least seven, including the Game 2.
Friday was the full package for Miami. It started with messes — COVID-19 concerns swirling after Jesus Sanchez went on the injured list for undisclosed reasons, then a sloppy loss in Game 1 — and ended with one of those too-infrequent complete performances.
Rookie middle infielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. started Game 2 by reaching on an error and Marte quickly put the Marlins ahead 2-0 with his first homer of July.
The outfielder, who’s in the final year of his contract, has been the subject of trade rumors for more than now after he said in June he wants to stay in Miami. The Marlins offered him a multiyear contract extension, a source told the Miami Herald, but the situation remains unsettled with the July 30 trade deadline approaching. If they’re out of contention and haven’t reached an agreement for an extension, the Marlins would likely try to trade Marte ahead of the deadline, but a recent slump could depress his value.
Two innings later, Marte smacked a leadoff double to give himself only his second multi-hit game of the month and Aguilar, another potential trade chip, knocked him home with a single to left. An inning later, Chisholm drew a two-out walk and Marte again drove him home with a double to notch his first three-hit game in more than a month. Two batters later, Aguilar belted a three-run home run to open up a 7-0 lead and prompt a serenade of boos from the 28,712 at Citizens Bank Park.
“You don’t know how much all this talk with him going on is affecting him and all. That’s one thing you don’t know,” Mattingly said. “Guys aren’t going to come out and talk about those type of things, but you do know that they’re humans, so they have these thoughts and with everything that goes on these days — there’s so much media, they’re getting questions from their family and everyone around you — that they have to affect guys. You don’t know what kind of affect it’s having.”
Jordan Holloway, who replaced fellow pitcher Ross Detwiler in relief after Detwiler threw just one inning, tossed five no-hit innings out of the bullpen with six strikeouts and two walks to secure the split. Despite a second straight strong multi-inning performance, Holloway (2-2) will head back down to Triple A Jacksonville on Saturday. He was only the 27th man for the doubleheader.
Eflin (3-5) lasted just 3 2/3 innings for Philadelphia, giving up five earned runs and exiting just before the Aguilar home run.
The bad: The playoff picture
The day began with a series of miniature nightmares for Miami. First, the Marlins surprisingly placed outfielder Sanchez on the injured list for undisclosed reasons — which, in this day and age, signals something related to the coronavirus. They followed it with an ugly, three-run loss to the Phillies — with 12 strikeouts in seven innings, including nine by Philadelphia pitcher Matt More, who hadn’t managed such a feat since 2017.
It all set Miami back even further. After Game 1, the Marlins matched a season low by plummeting 12 games below .500 and slipped to 9 1/2 games out of first place.
Even after finishing Friday with a blowout win, Miami will begin Saturday in basically the same spot they began Friday — only with a slightly improved run differential.
“Regardless of what happens on the deadline, we can’t really focus on that,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “As a player, you just control what you can control, which is going to the game and doing whatever you can to help that team win.”
The ugly: Jesus Sanchez mystery
They will also now likely have to play an extended period without without Sanchez, who’s the No. 96 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com, and had carved out a role as a regular starter, with an already above-average bat and the potential to be one of their best hitters.
Typically, the Marlins give a reason for IL stints, unless they’re for COVID-related issues, which could include a positive test, contact tracing or a vaccine reaction. Sanchez wasn’t playing through any known injuries before the All-Star break and started 21 of the Miami’s last 24 games before the break following his June promotion. The Marlins even traded away fellow outfielder Corey Dickerson last month to clear the way for more playing time for Sanchez.
Mattingly declined to elaborate on Sanchez’s IL trip.
“It’s one of those things we don’t really talk about,” he said.
Sanchez is batting .264 with three home runs and has been an above-average MLB hitter this year, according to adjusted on-base plus slugging.
If Miami sells before the deadline, the second half of the season will center around players like Sanchez — rookie hitters, many of whom are untested and all of whom are critical to the Marlins’ long-term vision.
The difference between Sanchez and others, like fellow outfielder Monte Harrison and first baseman Lewin Diaz, is Sanchez was already helping Miami win games.
The most important two weeks of the Marlins’ season have begun. After Day 1, Miami isn’t any closer to clarity.
Miami has two more games in Philadelphia this weekend. Pitcher Zach Thompson will start Saturday at 6:05 p.m. against Phillies pitcher Vince Velasquez and starting pitcher Pablo Lopez will close out the series Sunday.
Starting pitcher Trevor Rogers, the frontrunner for an MLB Rookie of the Year Award this season, won’t make his second-half debut until Monday against the Washington Nationals as Miami tries to manage the All-Star’s innings down the stretch.