Sat, 16 Jan 2021

Braves, Marlins meet in surprise first-place battle

Field Level Media
14 Aug 2020, 10:55 GMT+10

It's early, but it's also late, and that sums up this weekend's odd battle for first place in the National League East between the visiting Atlanta Braves and the surprising Miami Marlins.

Friday's game to kick this series off is also this season's home opener for the Marlins. And if you think having an MLB home opener on August 14 is weird, then welcome to 2020.

The Braves, regarded as one of the most talented organizations in baseball, are not immune to oddities. They are just 11-9 so far and on a three-game losing streak.

Ordinarily, in a 162-game MLB schedule, there would be plenty of time to get things right for a Braves team that won the division last year with a 97-65 record. But, in a shortened, pandemic-necessitated 60-game schedule, there's no time for a slump.

Further, the Braves have already lost their best pitcher, 2019 All-Star Mike Soroka, who is out for the season due to a torn Achilles tendon, and superstar left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. will miss the Marlins series due to a sore left wrist.

"It was (sore) enough that he couldn't play," Braves manager Brian Snitker said on Tuesday.

The injury has not gotten any better since, although the Braves do not believe Acuna will join Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies (sore right wrist) on the injured list.

Acuna and Albies combined last year for 229 runs, 65 doubles, 65 homers and 187 RBIs.

Without them, the Braves still have star first baseman Freddie Freeman, who had 38 homers and 121 RBIs last year and is off to a good start since recovering from a bout of COVID-19.

Other hot Braves hitters include outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Nick Markakis and shortstop Dansby Swanson.

On the mound, the Braves will start Kyle Wright (0-2, 6.75 ERA).

Wright has faced the Marlins just once in his career, allowing two runs in six innings of a no-decision last year. Miami won that game against Atlanta's bullpen, 4-2.

So far, Wright -- who was the fifth overall draft pick in 2017 -- has failed to live up to his potential. The former Vanderbilt star is 0-5 with a 7.41 ERA in 14 career appearances, including seven starts.

Wright's counterpart on Friday will be fellow 24-year-old right-hander Pablo Lopez (1-1, 1.80 ERA).

Lopez, a Venezuela native, made his major league debut in 2018 and is 8-13 with a 4.60 ERA in 33 appearances, all starts. Against the Braves, he has yet to win in five starts (0-3), but he has a 3.54 ERA that suggests he's pitched in tough luck.

His best outing this year was on Aug. 4, when he pitched five scoreless innings against the Baltimore Orioles.

As a team, the Marlins have had a crazy season that was interrupted in the middle by 18 players testing positive for COVID-19, forcing the postponement of eight games.

Friday is the start of a seven-game Marlins homestand, and they arrived in Miami on a high note. That's because on Wednesday, the Marlins snapped a three-game losing streak in an oh-so-2020 way, blowing an eight-run lead only to win it 14-11 in 10 innings.

Before the Marlins did it on Friday, no MLB team had ever allowed at least seven homers and at least 18 hits and still won the game.

"It seemed like a perfect way to end the road trip," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "It was out of the ordinary.

"We had a fire alarm at midnight last night. It (the oddities) just goes on and on, right?"

--Field Level Media

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