Amid the post-All-Star blues, here are some positives we took from the Marlins’ month of July.
While the first three months of the 2023 regular season were incredibly forgiving to the Miami Marlins, July would largely be anything but. They entered play on July 1 with a 48-35 record, holding a firm two-game lead for the first NL Wild Card. However, the team would succumb to a second-half slump that saw them lose their first 8 games following the All-Star break. When July turned to August, Miami sat at 57-50, still very much in the thick of a playoff push, but more evident were the cracks on what had already been an unlikely early success story.
With the overarching theme of July being one of crumbling optimism, there were still individual moments and stretches of play worth mentioning.
Here’s what went well.
Ace Turning the Corner
An anomaly in the Marlins strong first half were the prolonged struggles of staff ace and reigning NL Cy Young award winner Sandy Alcantara. In 16 starts through the end of June, Alcantara posted a 4.82 ERA in those 102.2 innings of work. The underlying metrics—particularly his 3.69 FIP and continued suppression of the long ball (0.7 HR9)—suggest he was due to positively regress, and fortunately, amid a month of collective woes, Alcantara seemed to right the ship.
In five July starts, Alcantara posted a 3.31 ERA, right in line with his career 3.29 mark. Oddly enough, his FIP and ERA continued on their dichotomous paths, but in the opposite directions, as his 4.38 FIP suggested luck being on the right side of Sandy, as opponents still managed a .728 OPS in 32.2 innings against the right-hander. In three of those aforementioned five outings, Alcantara allowed 2 or fewer earned runs, the highlight of which being his MLB-best second complete game of the season in a 7-1 win over Tampa Bay on July 26.
And if July was only a teaser of things to come, then August may prove to be even better given the ace opened the year’s eighth month with 8 scoreless innings against the division-rival Phillies.
If this is the Alcantara Miami gets down the stretch, all that can be said is “watch out rest of the league.”
The Marlins front office leapt into action a week prior to the MLB trade deadline to shore up their slumping bullpen. Andrew Nardi missed virtually all of July with a triceps injury, and A.J. Puk turned every opposing hitter into Shohei Ohtani (1.078 OPS against in July). The club took note of the dilemma and added two arms to help stabilize the later innings.
July 26 saw the a straight swap of Dylan Floro for Jorge López, with the former headed to Minnesota. López, while not off to the best start in the Twin Cities in 2023—posting a 5.09 ERA, 5.94 FIP, and a substandard 6.9 K/9—gives Miami a righty arm with tantalizing potential and an extra year of club control, as López will not hit free agency until after the 2024 season.
Two days later, and Miami was back in action on the trade front, this time making an intradivisional deal with the New York Mets for longtime late-inning stalwart David Robertson.
Immediate returns on the two proved successful, with López authoring two scoreless outings and Robertson collecting the save in the July 30 series finale against Detroit.
While the old adage of “you never know” serves most relevant when discussing relievers in small samples, Robertson’s past decade-and-a-half of high-level pitching in the later innings along with López being an All-Star as recently as last season justified these expenditures.
Anything you get out of Jon Berti‘s bat is a bonus considering the value he consistently provides with his defensive versatility paired with the fact that he plays just about each of these positions at an above-average level (positive total zone runs at 3 positions, 93rd percentile OAA).
Not only did the reigning MLB stolen base leader hit in July, but he did so with such proficiency that the Marlins could seldom go a game without starting him, as evidenced by a .383/.420/.511/.931 slash line in 47 plate appearances, good enough for a 154 wRC+. While he is walking much less than in previous years (his walk rate currently ranking in the 17th percentile), Berti has made up for it in 2023 by swinging at the appropriate pitches (chase rate in the 91st percentile), ones that he knows he can make solid contact against.