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D-Backs 4, Marlins 5: Rubber Matches are Hard

TL;DR: A taut, well-fought game was spoiled by a late inning bullpen meltdown and an inability to get the big hit to lose the rubber match. 

Miami Marlins v Arizona Diamondbacks
Merrill Kelly’s outing was good but not great.
Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

One of the many overarching themes in the early goings of the 2023 campaign for the D-Backs is how well they compete against “lesser” competition. In all honesty, this matchup against the Marlins pits two teams that have talented but flawed rosters. For the Marlins, they have a strong track record for developing pitching talent, but have yet (to this point) to parlay that same development success into developing offense. Meanwhile, the D-Backs have developed some exciting, dynamic position players with a varied toolbox of skills including speed, agility, and plate discipline. However, they have not yet been able to develop the kind of pitching depth of the Marlins or other franchises.

The first three innings of this game demonstrated exactly those strengths and weaknesses. Through those innings, the Marlins failed to have a single baserunner while the D-Backs generated all of one more baserunner – a double from Lourdes Gurriel Jr that was stranded following a Pavin Smith strikeout and an excellent play on a hard-hit Geraldo Perdomo liner:

I am certainly not the first baseball writer or commentator to mention just how squirrelly day games after night games can be. It seemed clear that in the first third of this contest, the players were not mentally or physically prepared. I think we can either blame the gametime or the inexplicability of keeping the stadium closed despite the beautiful Phoenix weather today.

Regardless, the action unfortunately got started during the visitor’s half of the fourth as last night’s villain Jorge Soler popped a single down into right field ahead of a Luis Arraez walk for Jesus Sanchez. It was a real battle, but Kelly let a fastball have a little too much plate and Sanchez didn’t miss a single stich as he absolutely crushed it to straightaway center to give the Marlins a 3-0 lead in the fourth.

Not to be outdone, the D-Backs built their own scoring inning with walks to Ketel Marte, Corbin Carroll, Gurriel Jr, and Pavin Smith. For those counting at home, that many walks will result in a run to make it 3-1 Marlins, but Edward Cabrera also uniquely managed to balk in another run to make it 3-2 Marlins. Even still, the inning felt incomplete until Perdomo once again stepped to the plate and delivered a frozen rope through the right side to tie at 3-3. That was the final batter for Cabrera who yielded to Steven Okert from the bullpen. Cabrera’s final line of 3.1 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 5 K has to be somewhat disappointing for the Marlins and represents his second shortest outing for the year behind a 2.2 IP start on April 7th against the Mets.

Perdomo immediately stole his fourth base of the year by moving up to second - and not a moment too soon - as Alek Thomas grounded into what very well could have been an inning-ending double play but instead goes down as a sacrifice hit to give the D-Backs the lead 4-3. Unfortunately for the Snakes, that was the last true threat mounted by the bats as they had a baserunner on every other inning, but never sustained the momentum into a scoring opportunity.

Instead of a shutdown inning after the D-Backs popped off for a four-run bottom half, Kelly promptly surrendered the lead on a leadoff double to Peyton Burdick and single from Garrett Hampson after a Jacob Stallings sac bunt to tie the score 4-4. The Marlins would threaten again in the seventh and ninth where a leadoff double from newly-crowned villain Sanchez set up a scoring opportunity. After a groundout from Jon Berti, Joey Wendle smacked a double into the left field corner to give us our final score of 5-4 Marlins.

At the end of these recaps dear Reader, I like to zoom out a bit from the quotidian feelings we get from the daily baseball season grind. This was a series that it felt like the D-Backs should have won - disregarding the respective records. Instead, the series revealed the same flaws the team has been able to paper over this far: a shaky bullpen, a difficulty in hitting with runners in scoring position, and inconsistent starting pitching. These D-Backs have already shown they can hang with the big kids of the Dodgers, Padres, and Brewers. They have yet to prove they can consistently defeat teams that are below their talent level and until they can, it will be difficult to count them among the league’s elite. In all fairness, this team still feels incomplete at this point in the season and it’s still entirely possible that the roster could change drastically (hopefully for the better) between now and the end of the season. This was a gut punch of a loss and it will be fascinating to watch how this still young team reacts to a loss like this.

The drastic emotional rollercoaster of the game.