Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
A familiar thing happened in Miami on Tuesday: Sandy Alcantara pitched well, and the Marlins lost.
That’s a fairly unsurprising outcome for last-place Miami this season. The Marlins are toiling in the cellar of the National League East despite a pitching staff and defense that’s allowed the fourth-fewest runs in the league. That means Alcantara—the staff veteran despite being just 25 years old—has no shortage of unlucky rotation mates.
Alcantara, alongside fellow 25-year-old Pablo López and rookie Trevor Rogers, comprise perhaps the best trio of young arms the game has to offer. Their ascendent success is simultaneously a source of frustration given the current state of the club, yet also a beacon of light for where the franchise could go.
Collectively, Alcantara, Rogers and López have compiled a 2.64 ERA over 273 innings pitched. They’ve put up a combined 6.5 fWAR, which ranks as the fifth-best in the sport compared to other teams’ top three starting pitchers (based on fWAR):
Three of the teams ahead of the Marlins on that list are in first place, while the Phillies are being undone by one of the league’s worst bullpens for the second consecutive season. Miami, meanwhile, has been let down by a sputtering offense that far too often has let its starting pitchers down in close games.
Alcantara has been the patron saint of tough-luck losses for some time now. In 2019, he made the All-Star team and had a 3.88 ERA in nearly 200 innings, yet led the NL with 14 losses. Alcantara has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 13 starts this year, with the Marlins losing seven of those games. In the six games in which he allowed no more than one run, Miami is 2-4. The Marlins have been shut out three times with Alcantara on the mound.
Rogers, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his 15 starts this season. He ranks fourth in the majors with a 2.08 ERA, yet the team is just 8-7 in his outings. López has allowed zero earned runs six times in 15 starts, but has won just once in such games.
Miami’s roster construction is important to consider when assessing what’s been a trying season. Most of the everyday players are veterans in their 30s who likely don’t factor much into the future plans for the club. Rogers and infielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. represent the first wave of high-end prospects to crash upon the big league shore.
Power right-hander Sixto Sánchez has had a false start this year, held back by shoulder discomfort, after an electrifying debut in 2020. Last year’s No. 3 overall draft pick Max Meyer has shined since debuting in Double-A this season. They represent reinforcements Miami’s current “big three” desperately needs. While Alcantara, Rogers and López have made 46 starts, the remaining 28 have been handled by a revolving door of 10 different pitchers.
Many a contending team has been paced by young starters who thrived in vain before team success followed. The Mets of 2013-14 featured Matt Harvey, deGrom and Wheeler yet finished both seasons with losing records. Before winning the World Series in 2005, White Sox youngsters Mark Buerhle and Jon Garland pitched a combined 1,654 1/3 innings for the team from 2001-04 before turning 26 years old, missing the playoffs each year. And prior to launching their 1990s dynasty, the Braves were routinely among the league’s worst teams, posting a combined .403 winning percentage from 1985-90. During that span, future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz made a combined 180 starts with a 4.02 ERA, honing their craft before racking up Cy Young Awards and winning a World Series after Greg Maddux joined the rotation.
The Marlins may never come close to reaching those heights. But with this trio of pitchers in tow for the foreseeable future, the dream doesn’t seem so far-fetched. With some key reinforcements and further development of the franchise’s young, budding stars, Alcantara and company could find themselves pitching in October again soon enough. In the meantime, though, they’ll likely settle for just a bit more run support.
• The late crowd got to see the seventh no-hitter of the 2021 season when the Cubs used four pitchers to no-hit the Dodgers in a 4-0 win. That ties the modern record for no-hitters in a year, and we’ve still got more than half the season to go.
• Thursday nearly saw two combined no-hitters. The Red Sox used Nick Pivetta and Josh Taylor to get through seven no-hit innings, though eventually lost the game on a walk-off wild pitch that came after Matt Barnes struck out Francisco Mejía:
• The Yankees won for the seventh time in their last nine games, and the hot bat of Gary Sánchez came to play once again. Sánchez homered for the seventh time this month, raising his June slash line to .313/.371/.734.
• Speaking of hot bats, it’s safe to say Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is not cooling off any time soon. He launched his MLB-leading 24th homer against Baltimore on Thursday, as the Blue Jays won their fifth game in a row after previously losing five straight and briefly falling below .500.
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