It was a statement series of sorts for the Marlins, who are fighting to make the playoffs in a full season for the first time since winning the 2003 World Series. With two weeks left in the regular season, the Marlins (78-72) at worst will be tied for the National League’s third and final wild card spot at the end of the day Sunday.
And it wasn’t just one player dominating the series. The Marlins needed — and received — contributions up and down the roster in order to win all three games against the Braves.
Here are eight of those players.
Jazz Chisholm Jr.
The simplest place to start with Chisholm’s production this weekend is obvious. He hit the first two grand slams of the Marlins’ season in back-to-back games in the eighth inning Saturday and then in the third inning Sunday.
Chisholm is the first player in Marlins history to hit grand slams in consecutive games and the third player in MLB this season to hit a grand slam in consecutive games (also the Minnesota Twins’ Royce Lewis and Boston Red Sox’s Luis Urias).
But in addition to the grand slams, Chisholm also drew five walks, stole three bases and scored six runs and played solid defense in center field.
In 86 games played this season, Chisholm has 18 home runs and 22 stolen bases. With 12 games left in the regular season, he has a chance to become just the fifth player in franchise history to have 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season. The others are Hanley Ramirez (four times — 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010), Preston Wilson (three times — 2000, 2001 and 2002), Cliff Floyd (two times — 1998 and 2000) and Derrek Lee (2003).
“He’s one of the more talented players in the league when he’s healthy. That’s the stuff he does,” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said. “He’s really good at the plate. He’s playing a great center field. He’s running the bases as good as ever and his legs are finally healthy.”
There are several Marlins relievers who could be singled out here, so why not just collectively highlight the group?
In the first two games of the series, the Marlins’ bullpen had to cover 9 2/3 innings against the best lineup in baseball, with nearly every pitch thrown during that stretch high-leverage situations.
Three relief pitchers’ performances in particular stood out.
▪ Tanner Scott: Back in the closer role after David Robertson was demoted to sixth- and seventh-inning duties, Scott threw a combined 2 1/3 shutout innings between his outings on Friday and Saturday.
Scott threw a perfect ninth inning to earn the save on Friday and then threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings on Saturday, getting out of an inherited bases-loaded, two-out jam in the eighth and then holding the Braves to just one hit in a scoreless ninth after the offense scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth to secure the series win.
▪ A.J. Puk: After the Braves chipped away at the Marlins’ early four-run lead on Friday and went up 6-4 with two outs in the sixth inning, Schumaker turned to Puk. The lefty, who was the Marlins’ primary closer in the first half before struggling after the All-Star Break, settled things down by striking out Matt Olson on three pitches to end the sixth and then retired the side with a perfect seventh. The Marlins’ offense scored five runs after that to take the lead back for good.
▪ George Soriano: With the Marlins throwing a bullpen game on Saturday, a day after Miami had to use five relievers to win the series opener, Schumaker needed someone in the bullpen to provide secondary length behind Bryan Hoeing, who went 4 1/3 innings. Soriano provided just that, tossing two shutout innings to keep the game tied 5-5 through the seventh inning.
After the bullpen did the bulk of the work in the first two games of the series, Schumaker needed a solid outing from Luzardo on Sunday.
The left-handed pitcher did that and more.
Luzardo shut out the Braves for six innings, holding Atlanta to four hits and two walks while striking out eight.
“We were really light in the bullpen,” Schumaker said. “We had four guys available and two of them were probably in an emergency. For him to give us six innings and our offense providing enough runs to give us cushion and him pitching with the lead was huge.”
Luzardo dominated the Braves with a heavy fastball-slider mix while throwing enough changeups to avoid falling into patterns.
“Me and [catcher] Nick [Fortes] had a good game plan going in, just attacking to my strengths,” Luzardo said. “Filling up the zone, trying to use my offspeed in the zone as well early in the count. I feel like that helped me out today.”
Sunday was Luzardo’s 30th start of the season. His 166 1/3 innings are by far his career high in a season. And he’s still pitching efficiently. Luzardo has pitched six shutout innings in three of his past five starts.
“I feel like it shows that if you dig down deep, we can all do it,” Luzardo said. “I feel like everyone’s tired. It’s September. I think most of us are at our career innings. There’s a bunch of guys in here that are willing to go out and get into a dogfight against whoever it is. I think it’s important to have a clubhouse full of guys like that who are willing to go out there and put it out on the line for their team.”
Arraez, the Marlins’ All-Star second baseman who is two weeks away from most likely clinching his second consecutive batting title, went 8 for 15 (.533) in three games against the Braves.
This included three home runs, including leadoff shots on Friday and Saturday to set the tone for the offense in those games.
Arraez is just the third player in Marlins history to hit leadoff home runs in back-to-back games, joining Miguel Rojas (July 27-28, 2019) and Hanley Ramirez (July 17-18, 2006). His four leadoff home runs overall this season are the fourth most in a season in Marlins history. Ramirez holds the top three spots (seven in 2006, eight in 2007, nine in 2008).
At this point, Gurriel doesn’t take for granted any opportunity he gets to be on the field for the Marlins. Every start, every-at-bat, every chance to make a play at first base is treasured.
Such is the life of a player in Gurriel’s role. He’s a veteran on a talented-yet-young team. He’s a bench player whose limited to spot starts, pinch-hit appearances against left-handed relievers and defensive replacement duties late in close games after being an everyday starter for six years with the Houston Astros.
“It is difficult,” Gurriel said. “Imagine [not playing for] a couple of days can just take your timing off. Imagine a week, right? So it’s been a difficult thing to stay in shape. Imagine like today. I was hitting at home. I think that was something a little extra work that I was doing that keeps me a little more in the game. That’s part of the job right now.”
That’s why moments like Saturday are big for Gurriel.
After the Marlins went down 3-0 in the top of the first inning, Gurriel gave the Marlins the lead back with a three-run home run in the bottom half of the inning, a 411-foot shot to left field that got the Marlins back into the game and kept an early deficit from spiraling.
“These are different games right now,” Schumaker said. “It’s like, who has a slow heartbeat? Who knows how to produce in big situations? Who has been there before? That guy knows what winning looks like. And he comes up every time and in a big spot it feels like, in leverage situations, all year.”
Hampson is the epitome of a utility player, filling in whatever role the Marlins need of him and changing duties on a nightly basis.
And when he’s in the lineup, he has delivered more often than not this season.
In the series against the Braves, Hampson went 3 for 9 (.333) with a double, two walks, four RBI and two runs scored.
On the season, in 187 at-bats over 86 games, he is hitting .283 with 21 RBI and 27 runs scored.