The 2021 MLB All-Star Game is rapidly approaching and the common mid-season break. Unfortunately, it’s not getting better for the Miami Marlins. Despite reaching the postseason for the first time in seventeen years in 2020, the Fish haven’t been consistent enough to replicate that performance over the course of a full, 162-game campaign.
Through 77 games completed during the 2021 campaign, just four short of the official halfway point, Miami is the fourth-worst ballclub in the National League. By virtue of a 33-44 record, the team is currently occupying the last place in the NL East. Furthermore, the Marlins have the fourth-fewest victories within the “old school”, with just Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Colorado trailing them.
Therefore, many have asked the same range of questions: Knowing the degree of success for most players both before and across the COVID-shortened 2020 season, were the units within the Marlins’ roster so deceptively overperforming last year? However, the answer to that would also be negative. The starting rotation was in its usual spot in the top part of the league. Meanwhile, the lineup resembled a stark contrast as one of MLB’s least productive. Neither statement has aged to a different conclusion in 2021. The truth, consequently, is that the inconsistency that can be observed anticipates a position closer to where the Marlins are this year rather than last summer. Despite the methodical progress in the last couple of years, this is the current, underlying reality.
Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that Miami’s 2021 campaign could have gone much less disappointingly had it not been for a few crucial losses to the Injured List. Injuries haunted the team all the way from Spring Training to the depths of the season. Here are the three most costly ones.
Brian Anderson – May 24th, Shoulder
Result: IL10 (Shifted to IL60 on June 14th), “Expected to miss a few weeks”
For a team desperately struggling to find extra weapons at the plate, losing one of its most important was an unexpected shock out of a cloudless sky.
For the first few weeks of the new campaign, Brian Anderson was unable to live up to the expectations. The former Arkansas alum had a slow start, reaching base at a rate under the MLB average while also turning in an OPS figure south of .700. However, the Don Mattingly-led club was still confident of his eventual turnaround given the impressive track record he had against his name over the first four seasons he played for the Marlins.
Yet, in late May, something happened that would crash the hopes of that bounceback, or at least minimize its effects of the woeful Marlins offense.
Brian Anderson had already spent time on the Injured List by that point, missing around ten games between April 21st and May 3rd. However, on May 25th, in the late innings of a scoreless home game versus the Philadelphia Phillies, a Corey Dickerson double sent Anderson to third. After sliding to settle at the base, he was substituted for a pinch-runner. The following morning, Brian Anderson was placed on the 10-day IL with “left shoulder subluxation”.
Anderson’s condition gradually worsened as he failed to meet his timetable for a return to batting and swinging activities. All of that ultimately led to the events of June 14th, when the Marlins moved him to the 60-day IL. In other words, the earliest point Miami’s power hitter can return is the end of July.
In his absence, scheduled to carry on at least another month, Jon Berti and Isan Diaz have taken over the duties at third base. Berti has been more reliable, starting 22 of the Marlins’ matchups in that span at third base, including the last ten, whereas Diaz has appeared in fifteen games at the post. Moreover, they have put on subpar numbers at best. Firstly, while Berti might have been solid for Miami’s standards, his .327 OBP is just slightly over the .314 league average. At the same time, his .680 OPS is lower than any other regular starting player, with the exception of Jorge Alfaro. Secondly, Diaz’s abysmal turnout amounts to a .146/.286/.223 stat line.
Between the lack of a pure third baseman as a replacement and the limitations of his backups at the plate, it is precisely clear that the Marlins lineup needs Brian Anderson at his best. Especially when it is a “sucker” for productive bats.
Elieser Hernandez – June 3rd, Quadriceps
Result: IL10 (Shifted to IL60 on June 5th), Eligible for reinstatement – early August
At first sight, the starting rotation might look like a completely concern-free unit for the Miami Marlins. The group ranks sixth within Major League Baseball and fourth within the National League with 3.27 ERA. Furthermore, Trevor Rogers has enjoyed a tremendous rookie campaign while Pablo Lopez has competed with Sandy Alcantara for the formal title of “the ace of the staff”.
However, the depth and talent Miami has on the mound have covered up for what could have been an even more dominant unit. Solid youngsters such as Cody Poteet and Zach Thompson have impressed but their time under the spotlight wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t for injuries to two of the team’s emerging young stars. That, of course, is a reference to the missing Elieser Hernandez and Sixto Sanchez.
While the latter was the organization’s top prospect prior to his August 2020 debut, the former’s more advanced experience level and statistical credibility set the bar even higher heading into the 2021 campaign.
Elieser Hernandez was coming off the best of his three seasons in MLB up to that point. The Venezuela native posted a pleasant 3.16 ERA with just 1.8 walks allowed per nine innings, accompanied by more than 11.0 K/9. Also, both his BB/9 and HR/9 figures fell compared to 2019, his first campaign as a regular member of the starting unit. Despite the still high amount of conceded homers, his figures settled in good territory. Not only that but, due to his young age, they can only be expected to improve going forward.
However, the 2021 MLB season might not witness his breakthrough after all. After just two starts on the mound, Hernandez exited an early-June clash against the Pirates with quadriceps issues. Just two days later, Miami took him out of the IL10 and placed Elieser Hernandez on the 60-day List, making his return before August impossible. However, good signs were available last week when the 26-year-old was cleared to throw, according to Christina De Nicola of MLB-dot-com.
Although Poteet and company have more than taken advantage of their new-found opportunities, maintaining the reputation of the Marlins rotation as one of the most dominant in the process, they haven’t been able to replicate Hernandez’s past success.
Sixto Sanchez – March, Shoulder
Result: Not Active, Unknown 2021 debut date
Upon getting the long-awaited call-up to the majors last August, Sixto Sánchez was sold as the “future of the franchise”. Before joining the Marlins’ MLB roster, Sanchez was the top-ranked prospect within the ballclub’s farm system for the whole year, according to MLB’s Pipeline. To a large extent, he managed to justify this high-profile assessment throughout his limited chances on the mound in 2020.
The Dominican started seven games within Miami’s starting group last fall. He turned in an ERA of 3.46, alongside steady figures in the home run (0.7 HR/9) and strikeouts (7.6 K/9) departments. Furthermore, these positives outweighed the fairly insignificant woes in terms of ball control.
Sanchez initially impressed Don Mattingly and the rest of the organization by posting a tremendous 2.76 ERA in 2019, when he competed in Single-A+ and Double-A. Even though seven starts are certainly an insufficient sample for a conclusion to be drawn, his performance was indicative of a promising 2021 campaign.
However, that looks less likely by the day, mostly because his return seems less likely by the day.
The physical state of Sixto Sanchez seemed to improve as Spring Training progressed. The 22-year-old healed his pain in time for a spring debut on March 15th, even making another start a few days later. Yet, Mattingly decided not to risk his health, shitting him down in the late stages of the preseason after reports of shoulder discomfort. In April, MRI scans revealed shoulder inflammation while a month later he targeted a June return. However, Sanchez faced even more setbacks, including having to go back to throwing from a shorter distance. He’s currently throwing from 120 feet, according to SportsGrid.com, but this examination wound up with him getting shut down last time around. In short, there is little hope for a 2021 debut for Sixto Sanchez, dealing quite the blow to an already shorthanded Marlins rotation.
Miami’s pitching staff has managed to respond adequately to its losses, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, Nonetheless, Hernandez and Sanchez are also clearly more reliable than Poteet and Thompson.
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