Time is running out on the Miami Marlins’ slim wild-card chances, but hope isn’t completely lost with six of their next nine games against the playoff- hopeful Atlanta Braves.
The problem for the Marlins entering Friday night’s series opener is their top two hitters are scuffling and have struggled mightily against Ervin Santana, who also happens to have won his last six starts at Turner Field.
Miami (65-67) opened a nine-game trip four games out of the NL’s second wild-card spot, but it’s fallen 5 1/2 off the pace after dropping four of six. The Marlins were outscored 14-3 in losing their final two games to an Angels team battling for the AL West crown.
"We’ve got to understand with a month to go, we’ve got to step it up and we’ve got to be able to win ballgames against playoff-caliber teams," manager Mike Redmond said after Wednesday’s 6-1 loss.
Atlanta (70-64) would fit that description, trailing San Francisco by 1 1/2 games for the second wild card.
The Braves beat the Mets 6-1 on Thursday for a second straight victory and now return to Atlanta, where they’ve won nine of 13. They dropped three of four at home to Miami in late July, but the win came in Santana’s start.
Santana (13-7, 3.60 ERA) allowed a run while striking out 10 in 7 1-3 innings in a 6-1 victory July 23, improving to 2-0 with a 3.26 ERA in three starts against the Marlins in 2014.
Santana had won six straight decisions before suffering a tough-luck loss Saturday, as he permitted a run and four hits in seven innings of a 1-0 defeat at Cincinnati. However, the right-hander still has that home winning streak intact, posting a 2.66 ERA and striking out 41 in 40 2-3 innings.
Santana has routinely frustrated Giancarlo Stanton and Casey McGehee, regardless of the location, limiting them to two hits in 21 at-bats.
That doesn’t bode well for Stanton and McGehee, who have totaled 55 doubles and 159 RBIs, as they enter this series already in the midst of slumps.
Stanton is 2 for 14 with a homer – his 33rd – and eight strikeouts in the last four games, and he’s 4 for 18 in his past five against Atlanta.
McGehee is hitting .163 in his last 10 games and is 1 for 19 in his past five versus the Braves.
As much as Stanton and McGehee are struggling in this series and against the scheduled starter, Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman has been even worse. Freeman is 0 for 10 with five strikeouts versus Tom Koehler (9-9, 3.82) this season and is batting .059 with a homer and 17 strikeouts against Miami. He is a .317 hitter against everyone else.
Jason Heyward has helped pick up the slack, batting .358 with three doubles and a team-high eight RBIs against Miami this season. He’s 4 for 9 with a triple when facing Koehler.
Koehler gave up three runs in seven innings of Saturday’s 5-4, 13-inning loss to Colorado. It was the seventh time in eight starts he yielded three or fewer runs.
That stretch includes his last start against the Braves on July 21, when he allowed a run in 6 2-3 innings of a 3-1, 10-inning win. The right-hander has a 2.70 ERA in three starts against Atlanta this season, but four total runs of support have left him with an 0-1 record.