Miami Marlins inch closer to pennant and wild card races

After the Miami Marlins took two of three from the first-place Nationals, they have now making their presence felt in the pennant and wild card races.

Every game has significant importance for the Marlins going forward.

Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI -- Meaningful games bring forth scrutiny. It's easy to second guess strategy with hindsight. 

During the decisive three-run eighth inning of the Miami Marlins' 4-3 loss to the Washington Nationals Wednesday afternoon, some may have questioned manager Mike Redmond moves.

Lefty Brad Hand, who had thrown only 91 pitches through seven frames, went out to begin the eighth with pinch-hitter Scott Hairston announced. Hairston entered the at-bat 2 for 4 against Hand. 

Other than a pickoff snafu in the first that led to a run, Hand cruised through most of the outing -- retiring nine in a row on two separate occasions. He has gone into the seventh in each of his past two starts.  

Yet during the bottom of the seventh, right-handed reliever A.J. Ramos warmed up in the bullpen in case the pitcher's spot came up. It did not when Jeff Mathis struck out swinging for the third out with a runner at first.

"He was pitching well and the second hitter was a lefty," Redmond said. "You think about that inning in a way that if we get the out on the bunt, that possibly could've changed that whole outcome of that inning. Not getting the out on the bunt put our backs against the wall, really. He still ended up making some pitches but couldn't get through it with just the one run."

Hand fell behind 2-1 to Hairston before leaving a hanging changeup. Hairston took advantage and doubled. The lineup turned over for the fourth time with leadoff batter Denard Span.

On the second pitch, Span bunted down third. Casey McGehee gathered it and threw to first, but Span was ruled safe, putting runners at the corners with no outs. 

"He's a fast runner, trying to get an out there," Hand said. "The leadoff double, just trying to pitch around it. Just bad luck. I just saw it on the scoreboard. It looked close. I knew it was going to be hard for them to overturn it after they called it safe."

After a 3:14 delay to review the play, the call stood. Following the game, Redmond still believed the speedy Span was out. 

Redmond brought in Ramos, who induced a shallow fly to center off the bat of Anthony Rendon. Rather than intentionally walking Jayson Werth to set up a double play with Adam LaRoche at the plate, he elected to leave the infield in and pitch to Werth.

Deciding to go with splits -- like many managers do -- didn't work out this time when Werth's broken-bat sacrifice fly to left drove in the go-ahead run. LaRoche then walked before Ian Desmond doubled another two home.

"Both LaRoche and Werth were 0 for 6, 0 for 7 off A.J. and the one guy who had good numbers off him was Desmond (3 for 5), so he was the one guy that we ultimately didn't wanna see him come up there," Redmond said. "That whole inning changes if we get the out on the bunt and that forces our hand. But we had the matchup, we had the guy on the mound that we wanted in the situation. Like I said, we get the out on the bunt and we might have got through that with no runs or maybe one run."

Miami would score two runs in the ninth off Drew Storen, but couldn't complete its second comeback in three days when pinch-hitter Reed Johnson grounded into a game-ending fielder's choice with two runners on.

Still, the Marlins took two of three from the first-place Nationals and have made their presence felt in the pennant and wild card races. Each decision, each play will be impactful with more on the line.

"We have a chance again," slugger Giancarlo Stanton. "Before it was kind of trickled out. Things didn't seem to be meaning as much as they potentially can now. We did good. We got two out of three. Obviously we wanted the sweep. The Reds have our same record, if not there. So they're who we're fighting against in the wild card at the moment. It's important to take care of them this weekend."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.