August 2009

All’s well that *ends* well. Which is a tough break for the Fish.

Johnson-Marlins.jpg

What’s that saying? It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish? 
That’s just too bad for the Marlins, because if we were going purely based on “start” in their series opener against Atlanta Monday night, they’d have had the game in the bag.
(You’ve just read the short version of the recap, so if you’d rather not dwell on the depressing details of the latest Marlins loss, then be content with “it sucked,” and go find something else to do with the next two minutes of your life. However, if you’re into details and/or self-injury, by all means read on to savor the agony…)

With Florida and Atlanta all tied up in the NL East and in the Wild Card, The Fish kicked off an important four-game series Monday night at Land Shark Stadium. Josh Johnson was on the hill for the Marlins, and Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami took the mound for Atlanta. With their ace making the start, the Marlins had the perfect opportunity to gain a game on the Braves in both the division and the Wild Card. 

Sadly, opportunity has to be seized, and it didn’t appear the Marlins bats were up to participating in anything remotely resembling seizure in the series opener. 
JJ was on from the start, and after he handled the Braves nicely through two innings, Jorge Cantu doubled to lead off the bottom of the second. John Baker followed with a single to move Jorge to third, and Uggla hit a sac fly to score the first run of the ball game. 
One run on six hits was all the Marlins would be able to shake out of Kawakami in his six innings of work, but for a while it looked as though one run might actually do the trick, since Josh Johnson was in the mood to tease us all by flirting with a no-hitter for the second time this month.  
JJ took his no-no all the way until two outs in the sixth inning, when Matt Diaz finally singled to record the Braves first base hit of the game. Despite the hit, Josh made it out of the inning without incident, and the Fish maintained their lead. 
For like ten minutes, anyway. 
After Josh recorded two outs in the seventh, things went South. JJ’s energy seemed to fizzle out, and the final out of the inning eluded him. With two men on, Josh gave up a triple to Omar Infante that cleared the bases and gave the lead to the Braves. David Ross was the last batter JJ would face in the inning, and he singled to score Infante and put Atlanta up 3-1. 
Johnson’s night ended after 6 2/3 innings, five hits, three runs and eight strikeouts. Brian Sanches recorded the last out of the seventh, but by then the damage was done, and the Fish had a two-run hole to dig themselves out of… Um, but instead of the lineup digging the Marlins out of the hole, the bullpen worked on digging aforementioned hole even deeper. 
Sanches hit Diaz to open the bottom of the eighth, and intentionally walked Chipper Jones before Dan Meyer took over and gave up two straight singles to put the Braves up 5-1. 
The Fish made things mildly interesting in the bottom of the ninth when Cantu doubled, and Uggla drove him in with a two-out double of his own for his second RBI of the game. But that was all the offense the team could muster on a night when the Marlins managed eight hits– none of which came from their superstar. Hanley Ramirez was 0-for-4 again, marking his third game in a row without a hit. 
JJ suffered his fourth loss of the season, and a night that started with promise ended miserably for the Marlins. Suddenly, rather than lamenting the lost no-hitter, the Fish were lamenting another series-opening
loss, which set the team back farther in both the division and the Wild Card, and brought the month of August to a close at an even 14-14. 
.500 baseball isn’t going to win the Wild Card, Fish. 

Consider the Series Salvaged

sean-west45.jpgSweep-avoidance mode is pretty much our least-favorite place on earth to be, but that was exactly where the Marlins found themselves Sunday afternoon as they took on the Padres in the series finale at Land Shark Stadium.

After three straight losses and some pretty lackluster starting pitching, the Fish needed a win, and badly. 
It was up to Sean West to try and reverse the trend of real bad pitching and put an elusive W on the board for the Marlins, if only to bring a little life back to the far-fetched idea that the Fish might actually catch the Phillies/Rockies/Giants and make the post season (optimism is what we do here at Hook, Line Drive, & Sinker).
Sean looked pretty good and held the Padres scoreless through three, but San Diego got on the board in a sloppy fourth inning for the Marlins defense. A single and an RBI double put the Padres up 1-0 before a throwing error from West and a passed ball by Baker allowed two unearned runs to score and give the Padres a 3-0 lead. 
It seemed the Fish were in for yet another disappointing afternoon. While West was suddenly shaky, Mat Latos hadn’t allowed a hit to the Marlins through his first three innings pitched. But in the bottom of the fourth, the bats decided to make up for lost time. After two singles and a walk to load the bases, John Baker singled to drive in two runs. Then the Fish loaded them up again for Cody Ross, who singled to plate another two runs. A throwing error allowed the fifth run of the inning to score, and gave the Marlins a 5-3 lead over the Pads.
To add to the excitement of the fourth inning, Chris Coghlan’s single was his 46th of August, and set a new team record for most hits in a month by a Marlins player. It was also the first time since 1954 that a National League rookie had accomplished the feat.
After the fourth, West didn’t allow another run. His afternoon ended after six innings, seven hits, seven strikeouts and three runs (one earned), and he exited in line for the win.  
The bullpen took over for West and Renyel Pinto pitched a scoreless seventh before Matt Lindstrom gave up a run to the Padres in the eighth to make it a one-run game.
The Marlins had a few chances to add on to the score when they loaded up the bases in the seventh and eighth innings, but all they managed was one run in the eighth when Coghlan worked a bases-loaded walk off of Greg Burke to give the Marlins a 6-4 lead.
Leo Nunez came in and closed it out for his 17th save of the season, and Sean West got the W for his second start in a row.
We’d nearly forgotten what a win felt like.
While salvaging the final game of the series does give us warm fuzzies deep inside, the fact that Sean West is suddenly the Marlins second-best starter does not (there we go again with the optimism). 
But for now, we’ll enjoy the victory.

But the good news is I took my Prozac today.

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After losing two straight, and six of their last nine, the Marlins were in serious need of a quality start from Ricky Nolasco as he took the mound Saturday night in the second game of the weekend series with the Padres. 
Things looked pretty promising to start as Ricky opened up the game by striking out the side, before the obligatory Super Saturday deluge showed up to delay the game. 
44 minutes later the tarp came off the field, and a rainbow over the stadium undoubtedly signified a covenant between God and the Marlins, that He would never again send a rain delay to destroy a game… or, you know, once the stadium is built and stuff.
Wade LeBlanc made the start for the Padres, and the Marlins got on the board in the bottom of the second when they loaded the bases with nobody out. Paulino hit a sacrifice fly to score the first run of the game, and Bonifacio followed with a sac bunt that put the Fish up 2-0. 

Through five innings, Ricky looked good as he struck out seven and held the Padres scoreless until Will Venable led off the fourth inning with a home run that cut the Marlins lead in half. But the trouble began in the top of the sixth, when Nolasco loaded up the bases and walked in the tying run. 
Tim Wood, one of the pitchers called up Saturday to help our tired bullpen, came into the game to relieve him, and Ricky was done after giving up three runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
The Marlins reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the sixth when Ronny Paulino came to bat with one on and two out and crushed his eighth home run of the year. But said lead was short-lived as another “fresh arm” came into the game.
Luis Ayala–another pitcher called up Saturday to relieve our weary bullpen–gave up the game-tying single to Kevin Kouzmanoff in the top of the seventh. The run was tagged to Tim Wood, but Ayala followed the seventh by treating Fish fans to just a pleasure of an eighth inning in which he gave up two singles and a triple to give the Padres a 6-4 lead.

Kiko Calero replaced Ayala with men on first and third and nobody out, and Everth Cabrera hit a sac fly that put the Padres up 7-4 over the Fish. That added another run to Ayala’s wildly impressive three-run, four-hit, one-third of an inning. 

It appears to have escaped Luis that he was called up to record outs. Our bullpen’s dead arms could have done that.
While Ayala was busy giving up runs, the Marlins lineup decided that they were done scoring them. After LeBlanc finished the sixth, the Padres bullpen took over and that was all for the Marlins. 
The Fish have now dropped three in a row, and seven of their last ten.

If you’re looking for an update on the Marlins place in the NL East or the Wild Card race, you’ll have to look elsewhere. HLD&S is done keeping track. 

The fat lady may not be singing, but she’s at least begun her vocal warm-ups.

volstad stinks it up.jpgIf games lasted just one inning, the Marlins would have had a great night.

Things looked pretty good for the Fish in the first inning Friday night as they kicked off a series against the Padres at Land Shark Stadium. 
For starters, Volstad managed to restrain himself from giving up a home run, and 1-2-3 went the Padres. The fact that he made it out of the first long ball-free and run-free gave fans a teensy glimmer of hope that Chris may actually be able to pitch something that at least mildly resembled a quality start. 

After the Marlins scored a run off of starter Kevin Correia in the bottom of the inning, though, we found out that Chris had merely been delaying the inevitable. 
In the second, Volstad unraveled. Kevin Kouzmanoff doubled to lead off the inning, Venable singled, and then Chris pulled his trademark move and gave up a home run to Kyle Blanks to give the Padres a 3-1 lead. The long ball was Volstad’s 27th of the season. 
But the joy of the second inning wasn’t over then. Things only got worse from there as the Padres scored three more runs off of Volstad before Fredi lifted him from the game. Kouzmanoff, who led off the second with a double, was the first and the last batter Volstad would face in the inning. In his second at-bat of the frame Kouzmanoff walked, and Chis’s night was over after giving up six runs to the Padres in just 1 2/3 innings, marking the shortest start of his career. 
Correia, on the other hand, lasted 6 2/3 innings against the Marlins, and allowed four runs on eleven hits. The Fish threatened in the seventh when Wes Helms doubled in a run and the Marlins loaded up the bases with two out, but Ronny Paulino grounded into a force out to end the inning. 

For the second night in a row the Marlins bullpen was called on to piece together a game, and once again they were unable to hold the score. Brian Sanches, Dan Meyer and Renyel Pinto each allowed a run, and stretched the Padres lead to 9-4. 
In the ninth inning the Marlins put another run on the board when Ross Gload doubled and Coghlan drove him home with a single, but that’s where the scoring ended for the Fish. Helms grounded into his second double play of the night, and Cantu made the final out to end the game. 
If you’re looking for anything positive to take away from the game, the good news is the Marlins only gave up 9 runs and 16 hits Friday, which is at least a small improvement over the 17-hit, 10-run effort from the Marlins’ pitching staff Thursday night. 
Chris Volstad and Gaby Sanchez were optioned to AAA after the game to make room for some fresh arms. After that, we’re going to need some. 
It’s unfortunate that quality starting pitching is a requirement for making the post-season. 

Sanchez Opts Out of Sweep

anibad.jpgAs the Marlins head into the final month of the season, each remaining game that is played is made up of the following:

1) Things that will help the Marlins keep alive their tiny flicker of hope of making the playoffs, and 2) Things that will help the Marlins have plenty of time to play golf and engage in other activities–which do not include playing Major League baseball–in October.
As the Marlins went for a sweep of the Mets Thursday afternoon at The Shark, there was decidedly more of the latter. 
Anibal Sanchez was pretty much outstanding in his last outing, and Fish fans were hoping to see more of the same from him as he faced the Mets in the final game of the series. Instead, what they got to see was a massive struggle to get through the fourth inning. Anibal would last just 3 2/3 against the Mets, giving up four runs (2 earned) on eight hits and throwing 82 pitches in the process.
The unearned runs came courtesy of some sloppy defense by Gload and Sanchez, who each committed errors in the game that resulted in two runs for New York. 
It didn’t help that Tim Redding started for the Mets, and the Fish could only manage five hits off of him through 6 2/3 innings. Chris Coghlan hit a pair of solo home runs–one in the first and one in the sixth inning–and Dan Uggla added a solo shot of his own in the seventh, which accounted for all three of the runs the Marlins managed to put on the board. 
Three runs may be enough to win a game when your pitchers are on, but on an afternoon when Florida’s arms gave up ten runs, the long balls were not enough. 
Christhian Martinez came into the game in relief of Sanchez and gave up four runs in the fifth inning. In fact, New York scored off of every Marlins pitcher who entered the game Thursday, which was incredibly fun to watch (or listen to/receive texts about/follow on game day while watching nervously for your boss to walk by your cubicle–it was a day game after all).
Bad starting pitching, bad relief pitching, poor defense and a lack of offense… I read somewhere that those things generally do not add up to a win. They sure didn’t in this game.
The Fish took two of three from the Mets in the series, and didn’t lose any ground in the East or in the Wild Card, thanks to the Rockies and Phillies being so kind as to lose Thursday as well. More importantly, though, they didn’t gain any ground, either. With a little over a month left in the season, that’s going to be necessary, and soon.

Gritty Win for Fish

instant grit.jpgIt was fitting that Sean West took the mound Tuesday night with the song “Hero” blaring through the stadium speakers. After a road trip that, well, sucked, a hero was just what the Marlins were in need of. Or, if you prefer to be less melodramatic about the game of baseball, at the very least the team was in need of a starter who could go more than four innings, and get through the first without giving up three or four runs. 

West wasn’t necessarily heroic as the Fish took on the Mets to kick off a ten-game homestand at The Shark, but he did have a quality night on the mound, allowing just one run on six hits and three walks through six innings. 
Nelson Figueroa wasn’t too bad himself, and gave the Marlins some trouble when he attempted to do his best impersonation of a Johan Santana start. Figueroa was filling in for Santana after the starter was scratched from the game due to elbow issues, and allowed just four hits to the Marlins through five innings. 

With the score tied up at one in the Fifth, it was Ross “True Grit” Gload who established himself as the hero of the night. West got into trouble when he loaded the bases with one out, and Jeff Francoeur hit a high pop in foul territory, which Ross Gload practically leapt over the camera well to catch. From HLD&S’s stellar view in the bullpen box, a catch didn’t even seem humanly possible, so we could only guess at what the crowd was cheering about (free frozen lemonade? The Mermaids actually dancing in sync for once? It was anybody’s guess, really) until the replay came up on the jumbotron. The defensive play seemed to magically remind Sean how to throw strikes, and he struck out Fernando Tatis on three pitches to end the threat. 
Ross Gload wasn’t quite done with the gritty heroics after his potentially game-saving catch, though. With two out and Hermida on second in the bottom of the fifth, Gload swooped in yet again to save the day, hitting a single to drive in the tie-breaking run and give the Fish a 2-1 lead. 
The Marlins had chances to add on to the score, but they, um, chose not to. After the weekend bullpen issues, a one-run lead made me feel like throwing up my insides from fear and panic wasn’t the most comfortable way to enter the final innings. But, after Sanches pitched a scoreless 7th, it was clear that Lindstrom and Nunez were not in the mood for theatrics. 1-2-3 8th and 9th innings ensued, and the Fish took game one from the Mets. 
The Marlins are 7 games behind the Phillies in the East, and remain 5 games back in the Wild Card, thanks to another Rockies win. 

Braves Get Free Pass(es) to Series Win

erase mccann.jpgIf it were possible to use a magic eraser on a baseball game, Ricky Nolasco might consider wiping Brian McCann from Sunday afternoon’s series finale with Atlanta. 

Obviously, it isn’t possible. But even if it were, despite going three for four with a walk and five RBI, Brian McCann wasn’t the real problem for the Marlins as they faced off with the Braves at Turner Field to end their road trip. 
The problem, once again, was pitching. 
Ricky Nolasco went with the recent trend of Marlins starters and struggled in the first inning. He issued two walks before Brian McCann began his one-man assault of Florida with a home run that gave the Braves a 3-0 lead. 
Ricky would last just 4 1/3 innings against Atalnta. He allowed four runs on eight hits and walked three before being lifted in the fifth with one out and the bases loaded.  Cristhian Martinez was one bright spot in the bullpen as he entered the game to work out of Ricky’s jam and hold the Braves to four runs. 

The good news for the Marlins was that Derek Lowe didn’t exactly have the most memorable afternoon on the mound himself. The pitcher went five innings and gave up five runs, including a three-run double by Catcher Ronny Paulino that put the Fish ahead 5-4 in the fourth inning. 
The Marlins maintained their lead through six innings, and it was all downhill from there. Kiko Calero pitched the seventh and gave up the game-tying run, and then came the delight that was the bottom of the eighth. Calero walked Omar Infante to start the inning before Renyel Pinto came in and joined the fun with a walk to Kelly Johnson. After Chipper Jones grounded out, Brian McCann was at it again, this time with a single off of Pinto that scored two runs and gave Atlanta a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. 
Ricky Nolasco and the bullpen walked eight Braves Sunday, and four of McCann’s five RBI were the result of those walks. Bottom line? Brian McCann had a good afternoon at the plate, but he didn’t cost the Marlins the game. If our pitchers weren’t tossing out free passes like candy at a parade, McCann could just as easily have put a single run on the board for the Braves, rather than five. 
So behind some weak starting pitching, and less-than-inspiring pitching from a few of our relievers as well, the Fish dropped their second game–and second series–in a row. 

I need to look it up in my baseball manual to be sure, but I’m almost positive this isn’t how you go about winning the Wild Card. 

Bet You’ll Never Guess What Volstad Did Twice that Cost the Fish the Game…

volstad-1.jpgThat Chris Volstad would give up a home run Saturday night was a given, and as he took the mound to face the Braves in game two of the series at Turner Field, it was not a matter of if, but when

We found out pretty quickly. 
It seems Chris wanted to get the obligatory home runs out of the way early so he wouldn’t have to worry about them the rest of the game. And that might have been a good strategy, had Volstad held the Braves to a single long ball and kept runners off of base in the meantime. 
He didn’t. In the Braves’ first at-bat, Omar Infante hit his second home run of the season to give Atlanta a one-run lead. After a walk to Kelly Johnson and an RBI single to Adam LaRoche, Yunel Escobar took a turn going deep against Volstad as well, and the Braves were up 4-0 after one inning. 
Volstad “settled down” after the first, but he was done after just four innings, having put in a pretty weak performance with six hits, two walks, and four runs–three of which came courtesy of the long ball. 
Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson clearly didn’t want to be outdone by Anibal Sanchez’s performance Friday night, and so while Volstad continued his habit of being taken deep repeatedly, the Braves starter flirted with a no-hitter for 5 1/3 innings. 
The no-hitter lasted until Jeremy Hermida came to bat with one on and two out in the top of the fifth, and busted it up on a single to center. Hermida’s hit opened the proverbial floodgates for the Marlins…or at least, you know, cracked them a little. Wes Helms followed with a two-out double that scored Baker, who had walked to open the inning. Then Jorge Cantu pinch-hit for Chris Volstad and singled to drive in Hermida and Helms to make it a one-run game. 
And a one-run game is where it remained. 
The Marlins bullpen worked out of a few jams to hold Atlanta to their four first-inning runs, but Hanson held the Fish to three runs through seven innings, and the Braves ‘pen closed it out  as the Marlins dropped game two at Turner Field. 
Chris Volstad is going to have to get over his home run fetish. May we suggest hypnotherapy?

Welcome Back, Sanchy.

sanchez.JPGAnibal Sanchez hadn’t pitched in a big league game since June 2nd, and he didn’t waste any time getting himself reacquainted with the mound Friday night at Turner Field as the Marlins kicked off a three-game series with the Braves. 

In his pitching debut since returning from the DL, Sanchez impressed, to say the least. He allowed just two hits, walked two, and struck out seven Braves through six innings, and had a no-hitter going until one out in the sixth. It was at that point that Atlanta pitcher Javier Vazquez was kind enough to break up the fun with a single. 

Vazquez didn’t look too bad on the mound himself, and a pitchers duel lasted through five innings as he managed to keep the Marlins off of the board. In the sixth, though, Hanley Ramirez–whose personal hit streak reached 16 games earlier in the night–drove in a run and put the Marlins up 1-0 over the Braves. 
In the seventh, things got worse for Vazquez. Jeremy Hermida took him deep to start the inning, then Wes Helms doubled, and with two out, Ross Gload drove Wes in with an RBI single. Hanley Ramirez followed with his third hit and third RBI of the night, a two-run shot that gave the Fish a 5-0 lead. 

A shutout of the Braves would’ve been swell, but Adam LaRoche had other ideas, which included taking Dan Meyer deep in the bottom of the inning, and cut the Marlins lead to two runs. 
And then came the rain…two-and-a-half hours of it. Thankfully, Marlins fans are perfectly used to that, and as a special treat got to enjoy the new “Inside the Marlins” episode featuring Josh Johnson. As much as we all love Andre Dawson, with all the rain that has plagued us this season, Fish fans pretty much know Dawson’s episode by heart.
When the rains finally dissipated, I was asleep. But from what I can tell from the box score and several text messages from friends who were watching the game, Leo Nunez came in to pitch the ninth, and recorded two outs before giving up a single that Adam Laroche tried to stretch into a double. Cody Ross gunned down LaRoche at second for the final out, and Anibal Sanchez earned his first win since mid-April.   
The Fish are once again three games behind the Rockies in the Wild Card, and 5 ½ games behind Philadelphia in the NL East. 
Welcome back, Sanchy. More of the same next time, please.

He is Mortal.

jjmortal.JPGThe Marlins hadn’t lost a series since they were swept by Washington August 4th through 6th, and we had nearly forgotten what it felt like to lose two games in a row. 

The Fish were kind enough to remind us Thursday night at Minute Maid Park. 
Josh Johnson was completely out of character on the mound as he played the role of a mere mortal in the series finale with the Astros. JJ lasted just 4 1/3 innings and gave up 4 runs on seven hits, which marked only the third time this season that he has allowed more than three earned runs in a start. (JJ allowed 6 runs on April 18th and 4 runs on August 4th, both–interestingly–in starts against the Nationals.) 
Less than sharp through the first three innings, Johnson still managed to hold the Astros scoreless. And then Carlos Lee continued his campaign to become HLD&S’s least-favorite Astro when he crushed another home run in the series, a 2-run shot in the fourth to put Houston on the board and in the lead. Hunter Pence followed Lee with a long ball of his own, and stretched the Astros lead to two runs. 
In the fifth, Josh was in trouble again. He gave up a double to Quintero before Wandy Rodriguez forgot he was a pitcher and doubled to drive in a run. JJ went on to load the bases with one out, and thus ended his night on the mound. 

Cristhian Martinez finished the inning by inducing a double play, and tossed 2 2/3 scorelesss innings in relief of Johnson. He was thanked for his efforts by being demoted immediately following the game. 
A three-run deficit doesn’t seem insurmountable at all, but that’s only if you’re going to get hits and score and stuff. It didn’t appear the Fish were in the mood to do any of the above, and not only did the Marlins’ streak of series wins come to an end Thursday night, the team’s double-digit hit streak was also snapped as the lineup struggled to get much of anything done against Wandy Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez threw a bunch of pitches in a shaky first inning and loaded the bases with Fish thanks to walks and a throwing error by Tejada. Then the scoring started for the Fish when Bonifacio walked and then scored on Uggla’s RBI fielders choice. 
Unfortunately, that is also where the scoring ended for the Fish. 

After his first-inning struggles, Wandy lasted through eight for Houston and allowed just 4 hits to the Marlins lineup. So, once again the Marlins started a game with promise only to fizzle out offensively. 

If you’re looking for a bright spot in the loss, Hanley did manage to extend his hitting streak to 15 games on an infield single. OK, so maybe that’s more of a dimly-lit spot than a bright one, but it’s all we’ve got. 
The Phillies and Rockies won, of course, because it would just be too much to ask either team to ever lose, and the Marlins slipped back another game both in the Wild Card and the NL East. 
Sigh.
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