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Orioles opponent preview: Miami Marlins

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After missing more than a week of baseball due to a COVID-19 outbreak in their clubhouse, the Marlins are set to return to the field in Baltimore. Hold on to your butts.

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies
The Marlins are trying out old friend Jonathan Villar in center field, and the results are...well, take a look.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

What an awesome weekend the Orioles just had. So, who’s up next on their schedule? The Miami Marlins, eh? I haven’t really been paying attention to baseball for the last couple of weeks, so let me just quickly see what’s been going on with the Mar—

(does Google search)

Oh!

(continues reading)

Oh, nooooo!

(reads some more)

OMG!! WTF??

So, things haven’t been great, huh?

It’s been nine days since the Marlins last played a baseball game (and it was one they definitely shouldn’t have played, at that). Since then, the Marlins’ clubhouse — and the baseball world — have been turned upside down. The team has been absolutely wrecked by a COVID-19 outbreak, demolishing their roster and putting the entire MLB season in serious peril. An unfathomable 21 Marlins tested positive for the virus, including 18 players, forcing the team to postpone a week’s worth of games and quarantine in Philadelphia, where they finished their season-opening, three-game series on July 26.

It’s that kind of nightmare scenario — a huge chunk of a team contracting the virus all at once — that fuels support for the “hey, maybe we shouldn’t be trying to play baseball this year” argument. And although the Marlins have had no new positive cases since Saturday, I can’t help but feel nervous about their return to the field this week and how it might be putting them, and the Orioles, at further risk.

Hopefully all the afflicted players will avoid serious illness and make a full recovery. In the meantime, though, MLB has gone through great pains to soldier on with the 2020 schedule, necessitating a boatload of adjustments.

Those adjustments include the Marlins facing the Orioles a week later than originally planned; the two clubs were supposed to play a four-game interleague series last Monday through Thursday, with the first two games in Miami and the last two in Baltimore. Instead, all four will now be played at Camden Yards, though the Marlins will be designated as the “home” team in two of them. Game one of the series is slated for 7:35 tonight, although Tropical Storm Isaias may have something to say about that, bringing torrential rain and possible flooding up and down the East Coast.

The two clubs will then play a doubleheader on Wednesday starting at 5:05, followed by a 7:35 finale on Thursday, although if Tuesday’s contest gets rained out, it’s possible a second doubleheader will be needed. What a mess.

Assuming the Orioles and Marlins are actually able to play this series, it’ll be a somewhat rare matchup between the two clubs. They’ve only played each other 30 times ever, but historically those have gone quite poorly for the Orioles, who are 8-22 lifetime against the Fish. Only once have the Orioles won a season series against them, and that happened 20 years ago. The two clubs last squared off in 2018 at Camden Yards, when the Marlins took two of three. (Only two Marlins hitters and one O’s hitter from that series are still on their club’s roster today, which shows you how much roster churn both clubs have gone through.)

The Marlins, 57-105 last year, were the worst team in the National League and third-worst in baseball, bettering only the Tigers and Orioles. That wasn’t an accident. The Marlins, as has been a recurring theme in their franchise history, are in the midst of a full-scale rebuilding effort, this one under the supervision of chief executive officer Derek Jeter. I think he used to play baseball, too. I’ll have to check on that.

The Marlins’ roster was unrecognizable to many baseball fans even before the COVID outbreak. Now, with more than half their team out of commission, the club is in dire straits, frantically slapping together a patchwork roster full of scrap-heap pickups, waiver-wire claims, and newly promoted prospects. Even Marlins players aren’t going to recognize their teammates without name tags. Cobbling together half a new roster all at once, in the middle of a season, is a pretty unprecedented experiment, but the Marlins don’t have much choice.

Who are the Marlins missing?

The Marlins haven’t revealed the identities of every player who tested positive for COVID, but a few are already known. Their promising young catcher, Jorge Alfaro, was placed on the COVID-19 injury list on Opening Day and has yet to return. And during their series in Philadelphia, the Marlins abruptly scratched three more players — starting pitcher José Ureña, infielder Garrett Cooper, and outfielder Harold Ramirez— for positive tests. It’s unclear whether any will be available for this series.

The Marlins are expected to be without shortstop Miguel Rojas, who at the ripe old age of 30 is the club’s longest-tenured position player, and is 7-for-10 with five RBIs in his first three games. Also reportedly sidelined with a positive test is the staff ace, right-hander Sandy Alcantara. The 24-year-old, acquired from the Cardinals two years ago in the Marcell Ozuna trade, was an All-Star in 2019, posting a 3.88 ERA.

In addition, the Marlins’ outbreak spurred their starting second baseman, Isan Diaz, to opt out of the season. The 24-year-old was just starting his first full year in the bigs.

Who are the new guys?

How much time do you have? In the last few days, the Fish have added a boatload of veteran players, as documented by our fellow SB Nation blog Fish Stripes. Some, but not all, will be part of Miami’s active roster for the Orioles series.

One name on that list, of course, stands out above all others: Richard Bleier, who just a few days ago was a member of the Orioles. The Birds surprisingly swapped Bleier to the Marlins for a player to be named in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, ending his 143-game tenure with Baltimore that began in 2017. Bleier is a sure bet to be activated for the series, so it’s very likely he’ll make his Marlins debut against the team that just traded him. We wish Bleier lots of luck in his new uniform, but not until this series is over.

Other recent Marlins pickups include ex-Orioles catcher Ryan Lavarnway, left-hander Brian Moran (nephew of former Oriole B.J. Surhoff), and right-hander Josh A. Smith, who will join lefty Josh D. Smith to give the Marlins two relievers with identical names. That won’t be confusing at all!

In addition, the Marlins are summoning a number of youngsters from their secondary site to make their MLB debuts this week, including 24-year-old outfielder Monte Harrison, their No. 9 prospect on MLB Pipeline, and 24-year-old righty Jorge Guzman, ranked No. 19.

Are there any Marlins I actually might have heard of?

You’ve definitely heard of Jonathan Villar, whom the Birds traded to the Fish in December for minor league pitcher Easton Lucas, mainly to avoid paying Villar a raise in arbitration (he ended up settling on an $8.2 million deal after joining Miami). So far, Villar is off to a rough start in his new home, going just 1-for-12 in his first three games. The Marlins experimented with playing Villar in center field, a position at which he’d started just six previous times in his career, but they seem to have backed off that idea after he committed an error in his first game. His subsequent two starts were at second base and DH.

Other Marlins newcomers this year include slugging first baseman Jesus Aguilar, a former All-Star who mashed two home runs in his first three games, and veteran left fielder Corey Dickerson, who is 4-for-13 with a home run. Both have boosted a Marlins lineup that, last year, scored the second-fewest runs in the majors and had only two average or better hitters by OPS+ among their regular lineup.

Miami’s top offensive holdover is 27-year-old Brian Anderson, who socked 20 homers last year despite missing the final month of the season. He may be the team’s best all-around player, a power threat who plays quality defense at both third base and right field.

On the pitching side, things are dicey for the Marlins, who have not yet announced their starting pitchers for any of the four games. Alcantara is likely unavailable, but the O’s could see 27-year-old lefty Caleb Smith, who started fast in 2019 but struggled after returning from a midseason IL stint with hip inflammation. His opening start of 2020 saw him walk six batters in three innings. Other starting possibilities include 23-year-old righty Pablo Lopez (5-8, 5.09 in 21 starts in 2019) and 25-year-old righty swingman Elieser Hernandez (3-5, 5.03 in 21 games, 15 starts). None of those Marlins starters has ever faced the Orioles.

Series scheduled games

  • Tuesday, Aug. 4, 7:35 PM: John Means vs. TBD
  • Wednesday, Aug. 5, 5:05 PM (doubleheader): Alex Cobb vs. TBD; Asher Wojciechowski vs. TBD
  • Thursday, Aug. 6, 7:35 PM: Wade LeBlanc vs. TBD

On paper, the O’s would seem to have a leg up in this series, considering they’re playing against a decimated team that’s missing many of its key players. But this is baseball — any team is capable of beating any other on a given day, no matter how anonymous their roster looks.

If the Marlins can get through the next four days without any more COVID cases erupting in their clubhouse, they’ll consider it a win. And if the Orioles can similarly withstand the series without any outbreaks of their own, that’ll be a victory, too.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win against the Marlins?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    4
    (31 votes)
  • 39%
    3
    (73 votes)
  • 15%
    2
    (28 votes)
  • 2%
    1
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    0
    (4 votes)
  • 23%
    They’re not actually going to play four games, because of a hurricane or COVID-19 or whatever fresh hell 2020 is about to unleash on us
    (44 votes)
185 votes total Vote Now