The young Miami Marlins will host the veteran Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon in the rubber match of this three-game series.
Miami, which had the worst record in the National League last season with 105 losses, is off to a surprising first-place start in the NL East at 9-5.
Atlanta, which has won the NL East in two straight years while averaging 93.5 wins per season, is in second place at 12-10.
The Marlins are winning despite 18 players testing positive for COVID-19. Another player, starting left fielder Corey Dickerson, went on the bereavement list Saturday and will miss Sunday’s game.
“You’ve got to stay in the present,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said when asked about coping with the missing players. “We have to try to win each day’s game with what we have here.”
Miami won the opener of the series 8-2 on Friday. But Atlanta evened the series with its 2-1 win on Saturday, snapping a four-game losing streak after getting a tie-breaking solo homer by Adam Duvall in top of the ninth.
“I’d like to start hitting them a little bit straighter,” said Duvall, referring to his looping home run banging off the left field foul pole. “That was like a 9-iron draw.”
The Braves, who are one game behind the Marlins, will start lefty reliever Robbie Erlin (0-0, 9.00 ERA) on Sunday.
Erlin, who will make his fourth appearance of the season but his first start, is expected to throw about 65 to 70 pitches if all goes well against Miami.
His most recent start was on May 26, 2019, when he pitched two innings and allowed one run, taking the loss for the San Diego Padres in Toronto against the Blue Jays.
Erlin’s career record is 13-20 with a 4.66 ERA in 109 games, including 38 starts. But the 29-year-old native of Oakland, California — he was the Texas Rangers’ third-round pick in 2009 — has had better luck against the Marlins.
In five career appearances against the Marlins — including one start — he is 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA.
For Miami, Elieser Hernandez (0-0, 2.79 ERA) will make this third start of the season.
In eight career appearances against the Braves — including three starts — Hernandez is 1-1 with a 2.05 ERA.
Among Miami’s youth movement, first baseman Lewin Diaz, 23, made his major league debut on Saturday as a pinch hitter and lined an opposite-field single to left in his only at-bat.
In addition, Marlins rookie center fielder Monte Harrison, 25, hit his first career homer on Saturday, tying the score 1-1 in the eighth inning.
Mattingly said he likes the way Diaz makes contact.
“He’s not a huge strikeout guy, and he has good hands defensively at first base,” Mattingly said. “He’s going to be a good defender, and he has an advanced approach at the plate.”
Harrison said his homer was extra special because it came on his grandmother’s birthday. But the rookie also spoke about his rough transition to the majors — he was hitting just .105 when he went deep on Sunday.
“In the beginning of my (MLB) career, I’ve been very passive and very timid,” Harrison said. “That’s not who I am (normally).
“I told myself: ‘What do you do best?’, and that’s to be on attack mode. When I do get my pitch to hit, don’t miss it, and that’s how I went into the game.”
Harrison said his first homer wasn’t as memorable as it would’ve been had the Marlins won the game.
“I would rather line out and the next two guys hit home runs and we win,” Harrison said. “I want to make the playoffs. I want to show that we can compete.”
–Field Level Media