Wednesday night’s game represented a huge opportunity for the Miami Marlins. A win would not only have swollen their building momentum and given them a rare three-game sweep of the defending National League Champions St. Louis Cardinals, but put them at .500 through 120 games and kept them forcefully in the mix for one of the NL’s two wild card spots. Their performance in leading to a 5-2 loss showed that this team still has a ways to go in becoming a legitimate contender for a NL pennant.
Miami’s starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi had trouble finishing innings, the Marlins looked lost at the plate against a St. Louis starter who had been struggling and defensive lapses helped the Cardinals get the win. Miami looked like a different team than the one that had just the night prior shutout St. Louis’ lineup and beaten Adam Wainwright.
The Cardinal starter, Justin Masterson, came in with numbers that weren’t impressive. Before Wednesday night, Masterson was 5-7 with an earned run average of 5.94. In 106 innings he had allowed 120 hits, walked 64 and hitters were enjoying a .290 average against him. The Marlins made him look masterful with their poor approaches at the dish.
Miami didn’t draw a single walk in the game and grounded out 12 times against Masterson, who got the win going seven shutout innings. The lack of offense was compounded by defensive problems.
Marlins’ second baseman Jordany Valdespin made two critical errors that led to St. Louis putting three unearned runs on the board. Eovaldi did go six innings and just give up the two earned runs, but he was far from sharp, allowing eight hits during his six innings to take the loss. All these facts put on display that Miami is not yet ready to be counted among the elite teams in the NL.
Upper-echelon teams know how to take advantage of a struggling pitcher instead of playing right into his game plan by serving up one soft ground ball out after another. Upper-echelon teams don’t make errors that lead to three unearned runs. In the course of 162 games, even elite teams will have bad nights, but the difference is consistency.
The Marlins have talent. Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is one of the front-runners for the NL MVP race this year. Starting pitcher Jose Fernandez could regain his Cy Young candidate form when he gets healthy. Adeiny Hechavarria has played gold-glove level defense at shortstop this season. Starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez can be dominant when he is on. Outfielder Christian Yelich is developing into a dependable lead-off hitter. Closer Steve Cishek is reliable.
The element that is needed to transform potential into performance is consistency. Upgrades at second base, first base, third base, back end of the rotation and front end of the bullpen may eventually be needed, but if Miami can figure out how to execute at a high level on a regular basis, those spots that aren’t occupied by potential stars can be compensated for. Without consistency, it won’t matter who the Marlins put on the field.