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5 Keys to Marlins and Braves NLDS Series
5 Keys to Marlins and Braves NLDS Series
May 22, 2024 11:49 PM

The Miami Marlins stand among MLB’s final eight teams. The 2-0 sweep of the Chicago Cubs caught most baseball fans by surprise. It marked only the second postseason sweep in franchise history, but the Marlins were not among those astonished by the accomplishment. The Marlins expected to win, as they do against their NL East rival the Atlanta Braves, in the NLDS.

The juggernaut that is the Atlanta lineup presents a far more formidable challenge for the Fish, but there is a pathway for this unlikely Cinderella story to continue.

Here’s a look at five keys to the Marlins and Braves NLDS Series.

Frontline Starting Pitchers Need to Come Through

The Miami Marlins starting pitchers posted a 4.31 cumulative ERA in 2020. That was good for 14th in MLB, but it included 13 different pitchers. The Braves touched up Pablo Lopez, Game 2’s starter, for nine earned runs in 12.2 innings pitched (three starts). Sixto Sanchez made two starts versus Atlanta, surrendering four earned runs over nine innings pitched.

Sandy Alcantara, whohas yet to lose against the Braves in his career, takes the hill for the Marlins in Game 1. In three career starts versus Atlanta, Alcantara has a 2.41 ERA without recording a decision. Braves hitters have posted a .230/.338/.279 slash line in 71 career plate appearances versus Alcantara.

The Marlins likely need two of these three pitchers to dominate their starts versus the Braves. The other options to start on the NLDS roster include unproven rookies Dan Castano, Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers.

The pitching staff in general posted a bloated 6.64 ERA versus Atlanta this season, but a closer look at that number shows 41 of the 64 earned runs came courtesy of pitchers who were not on the Wild Card roster. Subtract those pitchers, and the staff ERA drops to a far more manageable 4.00 against the Braves.

“We have to attack the strike zone,” Miami manager Don Mattinglysaid. “We’ve got good stuff. Don’t give them anything. Make them earn it. We have to go attack these guys.”

Leverage the Bullpen

Miami’s starters will need to go deep into games to prevent exposing the weaker portions of the team’s bullpen. The Marlins used a staggering 37 different pitchers this season, including 28 different relievers. Overall, the bullpen ERA finished at 5.50, fourth worst in the league. A closer look at that number reveals it as a flawed measure.

17 of those 28 relievers pitched less than eight innings out of the ‘pen but surrendered a whopping 65 earned runs over 59.2 innings combined. Hence, the inflated bullpen ERA. If you take the Marlins top-five relievers, you’ll see a group that posted a 2.00 ERA over 85.2 innings pitched. That would be the best mark in the league by far.

Brandon Kintzler,Yimi Garcia,Brad Boxberger,James HoytandRichard Bleiersport a mix of stuff and experience and should be able to save games if given the opportunity. As a group, those five are 13 for 18 in save opportunities. As a team this season, the Marlins are 31-0 when leading after six innings, so the bullpen has come through.

Mattinglywill need to leverage these top-five arms to win this series. In the Wild Card round, the bullpen posted a scoreless 6.2 innings pitched in two games, allowing just two hits.

Watch Out with the Fastball

Marlins pitchers relied heavily on the fastball in their Wild Card sweep of the Chicago Cubs. Miami threw fastballs at a 75 percent clip against the Cubs, with an average speed of 95.8 mph. Chicago hitters struggled to turn on those offerings, hitting just .157 against Marlins’ fastballs.

Against the Braves, the Marlins staff may need another approach in the NLDS. Atlanta sports the best fastball-hitting lineup in the MLB these days. Braves batters posted a .311 average against fastballs in 2020, the highest such mark since the 2015 Royals hit .312. Atlanta’s slugging percentage remained a whopping .551 against fastballs.

The Reds tried to limit fastball use in the Wild Card round, throwing just 43 percent of their pitches as heat. The Marlins staff will need to locate their off-speed and secondary pitches well, and be selective with their fastballs, because Atlanta’s lineup is stocked with five regulars who hit well over .300 against the fastball.

Getting Runs Early

The Marlins offense did nothing through six innings in both Wild Card games. Thankfully, their starting pitchers kept those games in control, allowing a stirring comeback in Game 1 and a go-ahead homer in Game 2. The offense seemed to come alive late in both games.

Against the Braves, the Marlins will need more runs early in the ballgames. Atlanta gave up 24 runs over its final three games of the regular season, losing two of them, but they were dominant in their two-game sweep of the Reds in the Wild Card round. If the Marlins can chase Atlanta’s starters early, they set themselves up for success down the line in this series. With no off days, bullpen management will be key, and the Braves don’t have a solid fourth starter in their rotation.

What’s more, the Braves bullpen was one of the best in MLB in 2020. Atlanta’s bullpen posted a 3.50 ERA, which was fourth lowest in MLB and second lowest in the NL. Miami struggled to scratch runs across the Braves bullpen during their 10 matchups this season.

The Marlins will look to repeat their last outing against Atlanta’s ace Max Fried, when they connected on two home runs in the first inning. Those were the lonely two homers surrendered by Fried in 2020. Miami hitters have had some success against Fried, with a slash line of .333/.383/.593 in 60 plate appearances.

Jesus Aguilarwent 15-for-40 with two blasts and eight RBIs against Atlanta during the regular season.

Make Up for Marte’s Loss

Starling Marte suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left pinkie in Game 1 of the wild-card series and sat out Game 2. He’s on the taxi squad for the NLDS, and will not make an appearance for the Marlins in this series.

Reserve outfielders Magneuris Sierra, MonteHarrison and Lewis Brinson each have excellent speed and are strong defenders but can’t hit like Marte. And that’s a problem for a club that batted .203 in the wild-card series.

For Marte’s replacements, getting on base and putting pressure on the defense will be key. The Marlins stole 53 bases in 2020, and they’ll need to manufacture runs with the feet in this NLDS series against the Braves.

Tuesday, Game 1: Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.00 ERA) at Max Fried (7-0, 2.25 ERA), 2:08, FS1

Wednesday, Game 2: Pablo Lopez (6-4, 3.61 ERA) at Ian Anderson (3-2, 1.95), 2:08, MLB Network

Thursday, Game 3: Kyle Wright (2-4, 5.21 ERA) at Sixto Sanchez (3-2, 3.46 ERA), 2:08, FS1

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