Marlins' doubleheader split to cap homestand sets up big final week for playoff race

©Miami Herald

DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS

MIAMI — Buckle up, Marlins fans.

It’s going to be a wild final week to an already wild 2020 Major League Baseball season.

The Marlins, still very much in playoff contention, split their doubleheader against the Washington Nationals on Sunday, winning the first game 2-1 before an 15-0 loss to close out their regular-season slate at Marlins Park. Miami went 3-2 in the five-game series against Washington and 9-6 overall in the 15-game, 11-day homestand.

They are 28-25 on the season, clinging to a one-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies for second place in the NL East and a guaranteed spot in this year’s expanded playoff field with seven games left to play.

Those seven games: Four against the Atlanta Braves (31-22), who hold a three-game edge over the Marlins for the top spot in the division, and three against the New York Yankees (31-22). All seven games are on the road.

Should the Marlins hold onto their playoff spot over the final stretch, it would mark their first postseason appearance since winning their World Series in 2003.

“Our goal is to finish strong,” starting pitcher Pablo Lopez said. “We have an opportunity to do something special, and that’s what we’ve been saying from the first day.”

The Marlins’ opportunity to start this pivotal final road trip with a win streak quickly faded after they took the field to start their second game Sunday.

Lefty Braxton Garrett, the 29th man for the doubleheader and the Marlins’ seventh-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, warmed up on the mound to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” before promptly giving up a first-pitch home run to Trea Turner.

It was the first of five home runs the Marlins gave up in the second game and the first of three runs Garrett surrendered before recording his first out and five runs over 2 2/3 inning of work overall, including another home run to Kurt Suzuki in the second. Nick Neidert gave up a two-run homer to Michael A. Taylor in the second, while Robert Dugger gave up home runs to Asdrubal Cabrera in the fifth and Victor Robles in the sixth.

Miami’s offense, meanwhile, was no-hit by the Nationals’ Ben Braymer until Jesus Aguilar’s two-out single to right in the fourth.

Miami recorded just seven combined hits in the two games Sunday.

They took advantage of a pair of Nationals’ defensive miscues and a big game from Sandy Alcantara to win the first game.

Alcantara fired off six innings of one-run ball, limiting damage in both the fifth and sixth innings,

Alcantara loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth on a Brock Holt walk, Luis Garcia single, Carter Kieboom fielder’s choice and Andrew Stevenson walk. Trea Turner followed with a chopper to third base. Brian Anderson doesn’t have a play. Holt scored.

He gave up a leadoff double to Asdrubal Cabrera in the sixth but stranded him by recording three consecutive outs.

Meanwhile, the Marlins got the better of Washington ace Max Scherzer by getting the better of his infield.

It started in the first. Corey Dickerson and Garrett Cooper recorded singles and each moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch to put runners on second and third with two outs. Matt Joyce hit a ground ball into the shift for what could have been the inning-ending out. Instead, Luis Garcia made a bad throw to first base after a long run to scoop up the ball. Joyce was safe at first on the throwing error. Dickerson scored. Scherzer, by the time the inning was over, was already up to 29 pitches.

He cruised through the next four innings before Miami struck for the final time.

Joyce started the rally with two outs in the sixth before being replaced by Monte Harrison, who stole second. The Nationals intentionally walked Miguel Rojas and Scherzer loaded the bases with a five-pitch walk to Jon Berti. Starling Marte, pinch-hitting for Lewis Brinson, then hit a chopper to third base on Scherzer’s 119th and final pitch. Kieboom hesitated for a second before throwing a low and late ball to Thames at first. Marte beat the throw. Harrison scored.

Brandon Kintzler worked a scoreless seventh for the save despite putting runners on second and third with no outs to begin the frame.

“It’s a team collective effort,” Cooper said. “We’re close to the finish line, and we’re close to something that this organization hasn’t done in a long time. Everyone knows that. We’re trying to keep everything even-keel. It’s just everyone trying to do their job. Not one person leading the charge.”

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©2020 Miami Herald

Washington Nationals pitcher Ben Braymer (70) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the third inning of the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday, September 20, 2020 at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. - DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS
DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS
DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS
DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Marlins pitcher Braxton Garrett (94) pitches against the Washington Nationals during the first inning of the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday, September 20, 2020 at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. - DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Marlins mascot Billy the Marlin cheers before the start of a doubleheader against the Washington Nationals on Sunday, September 20, 2020 at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. - DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS
DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS
DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Marlins players listen to the national anthem before the start of a doubleheader against the Washington Nationals on Sunday, September 20, 2020 at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. - DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS