May 22, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco (47) pitches the ball against the Colorado Rockies in the third inning at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

The NL East Starts to Tighten Up


 

 

 

With their 7-6 victory over the cellar-dwelling Colorado Rockies last night, the Marlins are now 5 games over .500, and have moved into third place in the NL East, ahead of the Mets.

Ricky Nolasco moved to the top of the Marlins’ all-time wins leaderboard last night by pitching six innings of solid effort, giving up four runs and eight hits, with six strikeouts. The win boosted his Marlins win record to 69, nudging him ahead of Dontrelle Willis. Nolasco took his mind off of his pitching long enough to rope a 2-RBI gapper to the left-center wall in the bottom of the third inning.

The Rockies started the game by blooping four base hits to the shallow outfield, and tallied three quick runs in a near mirror image of the start of Monday’s game. However, in the top of the second, Nolasco faced pitcher Juan Nicasio in the leadoff slot, and was able to dial in his breaking ball. From that point on, he only gave up one more run.

The ball stayed in the park last night for Giancarlo Stanton, but he was still able to demonstrate his speed and strength with a line-drive double in the bottom of the third that went straight up the middle of the field. The hit was close enough to Nicasio’s head that the local Fox Sports telecast dredged up footage of the comebacker that nearly killed him last year.

The Marlins’ bullpen took over in the seventh, with Steve Cishek, Edward Mujica, Randy Choate and Ryan Webb setting the table for a dramatic close by Heath Bell.  Giving up a double to Jordan Pacheco and allowing Carlos Gonzalez a sacrifice put the tying run on third with one out in the top of the ninth. Demonstrating the utter disregard for situational pressure that is the hallmark of a true closer, Bell forced a Troy Tulowitzki popout to Jose Reyes, and then took slugger Todd Helton through a 7-pitch at-bat that ended with a game-stopping outside fastball that didn’t even make Helton twitch.

Troy Tulowitzki and both catchers made bad throws, charging the Rockies with two errors and the Marlins with one.

Chris Coghlan, called back up from the minors, filled in for the hot-hitting Austin Kearns. Kearns was sidelined with a tight hamstring, but Cogs did reasonably well, going 1/3 with an RBI single and a leaping catch on the run in left field to stop a Rockies rally in the eighth. Also up from the minors, Donovan Solano registered his first big-league hit in his first big-league at-bat.

The Marlins close the series with Colrado tonight. Carlos Zambrano (2-2, 1.96 ERA) faces Alex White (0-3, 5.09 ERA). Thursday starts a four game series hosting the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are in second place in the NL West, seven games behind the white-hot, best-in-baseball Dodgers. Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle are scheduled to start against Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner, respectively. Ricky Nolasco is scheduled to start Sunday’s game four, but the Giants haven’t announced their starter yet.

At the same time, the Nationals and the Braves face off in Atlanta. The Nationals have won two of three against the last-place Phillies, and are ½ game ahead of the Braves.  As long as the Marlins can hold off the Giants, the top of the NL East should be the most competitive division in baseball.

 

Predictions:

Marlins easily top the Rockies for the sweep.  Infante is back, and the bench players have stepped in very well.

The Marlins take two of the four against San Francisco.  Lincecum is struggling, and Bumgarner will hang a cotton ball or two in front of the Marlin’s power hitters. On the loss side, Ryan Vogelsong is en fuego, and the Marlins haven’t demonstrated convincing consistency in clearing the bases with runners in scoring position.

When the Nationals come to town,  the series might represent the end of May for the Marlins in more ways that just the end of the calendar month. The Fish have had a terrific month, moving from the bottom of the heap to within close reach of the top.  However, the Nationals are bringing a rotation that looks like all aces, featuring Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. It will take our best hitting to beat this team. 2-1 Nationals on the series, with the one win as a squeaker.

Tags: Alex White Anibal Sanchez Atlanta Braves Austin Kearns Carlos Gonzalez Carlos Zambrano Chris Coghlan Colorado Rockies Donovan Solano Dontrelle Willis Edward Mujica Giancarlo Stanton Heath Bell Jordan Pacheco Jose Reyes Josh Johnson Juan Nicasio Madison Bumgarner Mark Buehrle Miami Marlins Randy Choate Ricky Nolasco Ryan Vogelsong Ryan Webb San Francisco Giants Steve Cishek Tim Lincecum Todd Helton Troy Tulowitzki Washington Nationals

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