1 of 5 | Right fielder Jesus Sanchez and the Miami Marlins are within reach of the National League's final wild card playoff slot. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Miami Marlins players say they are in high gear during a push toward the playoffs, gaining confidence from a weekend sweep of the MLB-best Atlanta Braves as their offense smolders and their ace pitcher eyes a return.
"We are just taking it day by day," Marlins third baseman Jake Burger said Monday. "We are riding the adrenaline.
"Being in the wild card race, we know what talent we have in this clubhouse. Me and [first baseman] Josh Bell were talking about it. Everybody's legs are tired."
The Marlins (78-73) entered Monday in position to claim the National League's third and final wild card slot and a No. 6 seed in the postseason bracket.
But a 2-1 loss to the New York Mets dropped them one-half game behind the Chicago Cubs (78-72) and Cincinnati Reds (79-73) for that slot, heating up an already blistering battle.
The Arizona Diamondbacks (79-72) and San Francisco Giants (76-74) are among other teams competing for the final playoff slot. The Philadelphia Phillies (82-68) currently hold the first wild card slot, while the Diamondbacks hold the second.
The results from that group's games are top of mind for many Marlins players, who are keeping their eyes on TV screens to see what their foes do in cities around the country.
"Right when you walk in the doors and walk in the clubhouse, it's like you walk into a force field," Burger said. "It's wildcard baseball and you're feeling that adrenaline."
He added: "Every single time we come in from a game, I'm checking all the scores. I'm getting 20 to 25 texts from friends and family, saying 'the Reds are winning right now.' It's a lot of fun, especially with 11 games to go, being in the hunt and scoreboard checking."
A postseason appearance would be the Marlins' first, outside of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, since 2003. It also would mark the franchise's third postseason trip ever gained through a 162-game season. They won the World Series in the two previous trips.
"We have nothing to lose," Bell said. "We are playing for the postseason and pushing deep and beyond. It definitely makes it a lot easier to show up to the ballpark a little bit earlier and get an extra work out in and get some more swings in the cage because we are playing for something."
At one point this season, the Marlins were 14 games over .500. A 15-30 stretch from mid-July to the end of August dropped their record to 66-67.
They rebounded with a 12-6 record since then, including a dominant series sweep of the 96-54 Braves from Friday through Sunday. They outscored the division leaders 36-13 in that series. The Marlins' 12 wins over their last 18 games are tied with the New York Yankees for the most in baseball.
"I think we've shown spurts, but we haven't quite gotten going as long as we'd like to," Bell said. "Hopefully, we are getting hot just in time."
Bell, Burger, Luis Arraez and Yuli Gurriel are among the key players the Marlins added since last season.
Arraez has easily been the best acquisition. He logged his MLB-best 200th hit this season Monday in Miami and leads MLB with a .354 batting average.
Gurriel, a fellow batting champion with World Series pedigree, brings invaluable postseason experience (355 games) to the clubhouse.
Burger and Bell joined the Marlins in mid-season trades. Burger hit .214 through his first 88 games of the year with the Chicago White Sox. He is hitting .306 since joining the Marlins in August.
Bell hit 11 home runs through his first 97 games this season for the Cleveland Guardians. He hit nine through his first 42 games for the Marlins.
Slugger Jorge Soler, who joined the Marlins in 2022, also helps carry the Marlins' offense. The two-time World Series champion has totaled the second-most home runs (36) of his career in 2023.
Free agent acquisition Garrett Hampson, who can play multiple positions, is hitting a career-high .289. He hit .371 (13 for 35) over his last 12 games.
The Marlins are hitting .259 as a team., the third-best average in the National League. They are particularly good late in games, with an MLB-best .269 average in the seventh inning or later.
Their 4.19 ERA ranks 16th in baseball. Rookie starter Eury Perez leads the rotation with a 3.06 ERA. Fellow starters Jesus Luzardo and Braxton Garrett also have sub-4 ERAs.
Relief pitcher Tanner Scott has a 2.23 ERA over 69 appearances out of the bullpen. He went 18-consecutive games without allowing an earned run before surrendering a game-winning home run to Mets outfielder Jeff McNeil on Monday in Miami.
The Marlins' rotation also could get a boost should reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara return.
Alcantara, who went on the injured list earlier this month because of an elbow sprain, said Monday that he could be back this year.
"I feel so bad right now because I'm here watching my teammates do everything," Alcantara said. "It's hard for me because I've never been like that. Hopefully, this year is the last time in on the injured list. I'm just excited to be back."
The Marlins will host the Mets for the second game of a three-game series at 6:40 p.m. EDT Tuesday in Miami.
After this series, Miami's will play three games against the Brewers, three against the Mets and three against the Pittsburgh Pirates.