With 5 runs and 21 hits in four games, the Marlins’ offense is as ‘frustrating’ as ever – Miami Herald

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JUNE 24: Josh Harrison #5 of the Washington Nationals tags out Jazz Chisholm Jr. #2 of the Miami Marlins attempting to steal second base in the first inning at loanDepot park on June 24, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 24: Josh Harrison #5 of the Washington Nationals tags out Jazz Chisholm Jr. #2 of the Miami Marlins attempting to steal second base in the first inning at loanDepot park on June 24, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) Mark Brown Getty Images

In the middle of the Miami Marlins’ biggest two-day offensive eruption of the season, Don Mattingly heard, once again, the question that has haunted his team all throughout the 2021 MLB season.

Is this the place where it starts?

It was a reasonable enough thought. The Marlins scored 10 runs Friday against the Chicago Cubs, then 11 on Saturday. They won their first road series in more than a month and, with a pitching staff among the five best in MLB at run prevention, it wasn’t exactly like they needed to crack double figures in every game, anyway.

“My answer was, I’ll let you know in 10 days or two weeks,” Mattingly said. “Here we are talking about it again.”

Four games later, Miami’s offense is in the most dire place it has been all season. The Washington Nationals blew out the Marlins, 7-3, on Thursday, holding Miami to seven scattered hits and three walks, and shutting out the Marlins until middle infielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. hit an eighth-inning home run with Miami already down 7-0. Even with the late three-run homer, the Marlins have scored just five runs on 21 hits in four games since their two-game outburst at Wrigley Field.

Entering Thursday, Miami was averaging the third fewest runs in the Majors, with the third worst slugging percentage, sixth worst on-base percentage and fourth fewest home runs, and those numbers are skidding in the wrong direction with four straight losses almost entirely devoid of any offense.

Starting pitcher Cody Poteet gave up four runs to the Nationals (36-36) in the first inning Thursday and the game was effectively over. The Marlins managed just four hits in seven shutout innings against Washington pitcher Joe Ross and sent only 31 total batters to the plate. Poteet (2-3) gave up five earned runs on six hits and four walks in just three innings, with power-hitting outfielder Kyle Schwarber pounding a pair of homers off the rookie starter. Ross (4-7) only had to deal with one runner in scoring position, and it only came because of an error by star shortstop Trea Turner.

Miami, now a season-worst 12 games below .500, is firmly in the cellar in the National League East, 9 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Mets and four games out of fourth place.

The Marlins aren’t exactly typical for a last-place team, though. They’re the only sub-.500 team with a positive run differential and one of only six teams in the entire NL with one. They allow the fifth fewest runs per game in the Majors and have the sixth best ERA. Give them merely a league-average offense and they’d have the run differential expected of a 95-win team.

“There’s games where you say, Well, this looks like a club that can put some runs on the board,” Mattingly said. “There just hasn’t been that consistency and that’s been frustrating.”

Chisholm, an NL Rookie of the Year hopeful, entered Thursday with a .107 batting average in his eight games since Miami’s last road trip began June 14. First baseman Jesus Aguilar, the Marlins’ best hitter for most of the season, was batting .200 without an extra-base hit in those games. Outfielder Starling Marte, expected to be their best hitter at the start of the year, was batting .208. Even with the 10- and 11-run outbursts, Miami entered Thursday averaging just 3.25 runs per game in its last eight as three of its best hitters fell into simultaneous slumps.

This isn’t entirely unexpected. General manager Kim Ng said June 8 she “never anticipated us being a real high-scoring team.” With the their pitching prospects much further along than their hitters, the Marlins were always going to have to win because of pitching.

This week, the offense has affected the pitching, too.

On Tuesday, starting pitcher Sandy Alcantara was through eight innings on only 86 pitches, but Miami lifted him for a pinch hitter — catcher Sandy Leon, the top righty available because of injuries to outfielders Garrett Cooper and Brian Anderson — with the score tied in the bottom of the eighth. The Marlins wound up losing by one run after relief pitcher Yimi Garcia gave up the winning run in the top of ninth.

In its two games against the Blue Jays, Miami had just eight hits and two walks.

On Thursday, Chisholm was the first player out on the field, getting in an extra session of batting practice, long before 5,255 filed into loanDepot park to watch a third straight home loss.

As the leadoff hitter with All-Star potential, Chisholm is the best engine the Marlins’ offense has. He’s second on the team in stolen bases, and third in home runs and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. His 17 multi-hit games have coincided with 10 Miami wins. Although Thursday was one of those losses, his eighth-inning homer was accompanied by a literal sigh of relief from the 23-year-old.

Maybe this won’t be the place where it starts, but whenever it does, the Marlins’ stars, Chisholm included, will have to be at the soul of whatever it is.

“Players are frustrated that we haven’t been able to create that consistency. They probably hear the talk more than even I do,” Mattingly said. “You talk about the right things, say the right things. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”

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Miami Marlins relief pitcher Jordan Holloway throws during the third inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Miami. Lynne Sladky AP

Marlins send Holloway to minors

Jordan Holloway’s rehab assignment, but the relief pitcher is staying in the minors to continue working as a starter.

The Marlins assigned the rookie to Triple A Jacksonville, where he’ll join the starting rotation after recovering from a groin injury. Miami wants to continue developing Holloway as a starting pitcher after he made a pair of starts for in April, so it will keep him in the minors as pitchers Cody Poteet and Zach Thompson have, at least for now, cemented their place in the Marlins’ rotation.

Holloway, 25, also made six appearances as a reliever and posted a 2.55 ERA in 17 2/3 innings. In three of his relief appearances, the rookie went at least three innings, including a 3 2/3-inning outing in May.

“We were happy with what we were seeing,” Mattingly said of the organization’s No. 21 prospect, according to MLB.com. “I know Mel [Stottlemyre Jr.] was really happy with his development. … Just getting him built feels good, just looking at that reinstatement today knowing that we’ve got a starter sitting there that’s built up to be a starter, so that’s a good feeling for us and for him.

“We see a guy with big stuff that has the stuff to pitch here and compete here, and be really good here. And hopefully just keeps that path growing and put another guy in the pipeline of starters for us.”

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Miami Marlins Pablo Lo?pez (49) pitches in the opening inning as they play the Colorado Rockies at loandepot park June 8, 2021. Charles Trainor Jr ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Up next

The Marlins continue their four-game series with the Nationals and will try to snap their four-game losing streak at 7:10 p.m. in Miami.

Starting pitcher Pablo Lopez, with his 2.86 ERA, will get the nod for the Marlins. Washington starting pitcher Jon Lester will take the mound for the red-hot Nationals, who have now won 10 of 11.

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David Wilson, a Maryland native, is the Miami Herald’s utility man for sports coverage.