I find every series between the Marlins and Nationals intriguing. I’ve followed the Marlins longer than any other team, yet I’ve seen the Nationals play more than any other. The division rivals play about 18 games head-to-head each season and have provided some of the most entertaining baseball I’ve ever watched. From tense pitching duels between studded young arms to slugfests between All-Stars Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper, and even fist fights on the field, there is always a story to follow even when one of the teams dwells in the league’s cellar.
Both Miami and Washington have top-notch pitching staffs. When the Jordan Zimmermanns and Henderson Alvarezes pitch to their potential, these matchups often float into the late innings with very little–or no–scoring. In fact, last September Zimmermann shut out the Fish in under two and a half hours. But don’t be surprised to see the Marlins tag Strasburg for six runs in two innings, or the Nationals chase a Miami starter after just three innings. However, even when starters turn in quality outings, the bullpens of these two clubs rarely allow the contests to cool off after six or seven innings.
Back in May, I attended a game at Nationals Park in which the starters only allowed four of the night’s 13 runs. The Marlins scored four in extra innings to win. In April, the Nats and Marlins combined for 17 runs in DC with the Nats scoring their final four in the eighth inning to seal the game.
It’s late July and the Nationals are in Miami for a three game series in which the Marlins season virtually hangs. After last night’s thrilling victory, the Fish sit just a game under .500 and 6 back of the Nationals for first place in the East. They’re also 4.5 out of a National League Wild Card spot. While they’re not in great standing, their playoff chances look much brighter than they did two weeks ago. After dropping six straight after the All Star break, the Fish went on to take three of four in Atlanta, sweep three from Houston, and win the first against Washington at home. That’s seven wins in eight games. The trade deadline looms, and the Marlins may be in a position to buy after all.
In the seventh inning last night, the Marlins were down 6-0 to the Nationals. I would have guessed at that point that they’d be putting some players on the trade block today. But there’s nothing more dangerous than a young team with nothing to lose, on a hot streak, and facing a bullpen with a less-than-perfect record. The Fish struck for three runs against the Nats’ bullpen in the seventh and eighth, but were still down a few going into the last of the ninth. Here goes:
Unintimidated by Rafael Soriano, Casey McGehee led off the final inning with a walk, and Garrett Jones doubled him to third. Marcell Ozuna blooped a single into right field to score a run and put runners on the corners with no outs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (best name in sports) drilled a sac fly to right making it 6-5 with one out and a runner still on first. Washington was not in a bad position with their closer on the hill and up by one, but Soriano threw a wild pitch to Adeiny Hechavarria to allow the tying run to move into scoring position. It really wouldn’t matter in the long run because Hechavarria, making my life as a writer incredibly difficult, shot a triple into the right-center gap, tying the game while moving himself 90 feet from a win. Jerry Blevins took over for Soriano, and as much as I love the University of Dayton and its baseball-playing alumni, I’ve loved the Marlins for longer. Blevins struck out Christian Yelich to move the Nationals an out away from escaping to extra innings. As Jeff Baker strutted to the plate, I remembered how much I didn’t love his alma mater of Gar Field High School, but then I remembered how I threw a complete game 14-4 win against them this high school season and didn’t mind rooting for him. He drilled the first pitch he saw off the left field wall and the Marlins walked off with an
improbable nearly impossible, come-from-behind, Miami-Washington-style, crazy win. I’m metaphorically out of breath.
The point is, if Miami can win this series, they find themselves in a favorable position at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, the Nationals are locked in a tight race with the Braves and are trying to maintain their lead, which currently stands at just a half game. Atlanta is a team against whom Washington has struggled greatly, so it’s important the Nats get as many wins against other divisional opponents as possible. But the Marlins, obviously, are not in a position to roll over easily.
Is 2014 Miami’s season? As of right now, I doubt it. Even if the Marlins do find a way to sneak into the playoffs, it’s there that experience triumphs. And I’ll take St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and (heck) even Washington in October over Miami, a franchise that has not made the postseason since their 2003 World Series win. And the vast majority of Miami’s roster has never played in the postseason. Therefore, it’s not worth it for the Marlins to sell their entire minor league system to buy a few blockbuster players for a shot at a championship. But if they trade a prospect for a guy who will up their chances at making the postseason and at least excite this franchise for a future run, I’m all in.
And it’s fitting that Miami make these decisions while playing a team with whom they’ve had arguably the most exciting history, save Steve Bartman and the Cubs. But who knows? Maybe the Marlins will see the Nationals in October.