Nationals face Marlins in battle of tired teams
MIAMI — Perhaps the Miami Marlins are simply worn down.
The Marlins (67-69) have lost six of their past seven games, a slump that started Aug. 28 at Washington, when they were swept in three games. The bad times continued over the weekend, when Miami lost three of four to the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, who have the worst record in the majors.
The Marlins are set to oppose the Nationals again, although this time the series is at Marlins Park, starting Monday night.
The big question is simply this: Do the Marlins have anything left in the tank? Or has their lack of depth, made more glaring by a farm system that does not have a ton of ready-made prospects, finally sunk their long-shot playoff hopes?
“We’re grinding it out,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We’re trying to keep our (best) guys out there. But at some point it catches up to you — the lack of depth we have.”
The Colorado Rockies hold the second National League wild-card playoff spot, leading the Milwaukee Brewers by a half-game and the St. Louis Cardinals by three.
The Marlins are just five games back due to Colorado’s own slump. The Rockies have dropped four straight.
Washington, meanwhile, seemingly has little to play for as it has a 15-game lead in the NL East. Home field throughout the NL playoffs is a worthy goal, but the Nationals (82-54) trail the Los Angeles Dodgers by 10 games in order to get there.
So, given that, the biggest suspense regarding the Marlins-Nationals game on Monday has to do with Miami and its fitness down the stretch.
The Marlins’ shaky depth has already been damaged by injuries to several players who are still out such as first baseman Justin Bour, shortstop JT Riddle and third baseman Martin Prado.
Miami brought up rookie third baseman Brian Anderson, and he made his major league debut Friday. He collected a hit in each of his three games vs. Philadelphia.
Yet the biggest focus is on the Marlins’ All-Star outfield of Marcell Ozuna in left, Christian Yelich in center and Giancarlo Stanton in right.
That trio — which ranks with the best outfields in baseball — has combined to hit 100 homers, including a major-league-leading 52 by Stanton and 32 by Ozuna.
But Stanton is in a 2-for-25 slump, and Ozuna went 0-for-5 on Sunday.
And then there’s this: Since July 21 — a stretch of 43 games — Stanton has only rested once, Ozuna once and Yelich once.
Miami’s fourth outfielder is future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, but he will be 44 next month and is well past his prime.
“We’ve been running our (starting) outfielders out there every day,” Mattingly said. “They don’t get any rest. You keep pushing them. So is it that (the reason for the slump)? Or is it just a little stretch we’re going through?”
While Mattingly ponders that question, the Nationals hit a speed bump over the weekend, dropping three of four games to the Brewers in Milwaukee.
“Some of our players are a little worn,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said after Washington’s 7-2 loss to the Brewers on Sunday. “You don’t use it as an excuse, but we are playing 21 games in 20 days. That’s a lot late in the season.”
In four games against the Brewers, the Nationals combined to produce just 19 hits and eight runs.
“We’ve got to get our act together,” Baker said.
The Nationals will recall 25-year-old right-hander A.J. Cole (1-4, 4.50 ERA) from Triple-A Syracuse to face the Marlins on Monday.
Cole, who made his major league debut in 2015, is 2-6 with a 5.00 ERA in his career, making 16 appearances, including 14 as a starter. This year, he is 1-4 with a 4.50 ERA. In four career starts against Miami, two of them this year, he is 0-2 with a 6.88 ERA.
Miami will start left-hander Adam Conley (6-6, 5.02 ERA). Conley had a quality start but took a 4-0 loss at Washington last Wednesday, allowing seven hits, two walks and two runs in six innings.
He is 0-2 with a 5.73 ERA this year against the Nationals. In six career starts against Washington, he is 1-4 with a 7.14 ERA.