One of the benefits of being in south Florida is being able to watch Comcast and both teams from Florida. The Tampa Bay Rays are on Channel 35 and the Marlins are on Channel 37. Both teams are bursting with young talent and the promise of the future. The Rays have had a fine season but fell behind both the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Marlins changed managers and despite so many fine players, can't seem to get anything to go right. Friday night was tough to watch.
The Marlins started one of the best pitchers in baseball in Josh Johnson. The guy has it all. He throws a 96 to 98 MPH fastball, a change up and a nasty breaking pitch. He had it all going against the Braves. At one point, the Fan counted six broken bats in the first three innings. But despite how good he pitched, he had a man on third in three of his first five innings. The first two times, his superior pitching got him out of it. The last time cost him his only run, but it shouldn't have.
The last time, he faced Prado and battled. Prado is a terrific hitter and back and forth it went. Then Johnson threw his best pitch of the night with two strikes. It was a 97 MPH heater on the inside corner at the knees. The pitch tracker showed the entire ball in the strike zone, but the ump never raised his right arm. Prado got another chance and hit a hanging slider into left to score the run. It was the only run the Braves would get.
But that blown call did one more thing. The Braves are good at making the pitcher work and Johnson had thrown a lot of pitches. The blown strike call caused him to face two extra batters and throw ten extra pitches. That let the game get deeper into the Marlins' bullpen.
The Braves scratched another run and had Billy Wagner in the ninth and the great closer gave a one out homer to Gaby Sanchez, who has taken his opening season by storm. It then became a game of relievers and the game pushed into the eleventh. In the top of that inning, the Marlins started a rally off of phenom reliever, Venters. With a man on third, the Marlins attempted a squeeze play but the batter missed the pitch. Wes Helms, the speed challenged third baseman, was a dead duck between third and home. The catcher thew it toward third. Helms headed toward home. Chipper Jones threw it to Venters who had Helms dead. But Venters totally whiffed the throw. He looked like a little leaguer. Helms scored.
The bottom of the 11th was in the hands of the closer, Nunez. Once again, this game showed how critical a closer can be. Nunez walked the first batter (McCann) on four pitches. Troy Glaus hit a double. Omar Infante hit a single. Ball game.
The game really showed what ails the Marlins. They don't handle close games well. They are 8-16 in one run games. When their starter does well, they don't hit. When they hit, the starter doesn't do well. When the game is on the line, they can't put it away. They have a nice team and are fun to watch. They just can't get over the hump.
Early this season, the Bay Rays were the scoring machine of the majors. But they have scored two runs or fewer in 12 of their last 18 games. Watching them regularly the last two weeks, they always seem to get two quick outs and then get some base runners and can't get the big hit to score the run. David Price was amazing again tonight. He gave up two runs in a complete game, eight-inning gem. he had one bad inning. But ten men left on base over the course of the game led to a 2-1 loss.
The Rays are obviously going through a tough stretch, but you can't help but like this team. The Fan especially likes when Brignac plays short and Sean Rodriguez plays second. Brignac is an amazing fielder and plays with a lot of fire. Bartlett was fantastic at the plate last year, but isn't anywhere near that performance this year. The question is if Brignac can hit consistently. Unfortunately, his minor league record doesn't figure him better than a replacement level batter.
After two weeks of daily viewing, the Fan has really come to appreciate Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, David Price, Jeff Niemann, Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez, Andy Sonnanstine and John Jaso. B. J. Upton and Carlos Pena are a problem. But this team is stacked with talent from end to end. Some times Joe Maddon, who is one of the smartest men in baseball, over thinks things and ends up making weird mistakes. But this is a team that will fight right down to the wire. All they have to do is find a way to end up in at least second place in the AL East