Sandy Alcantara took the mound Monday with the Miami Marlins tumbling through their worst stretch of the season, to face the always-intimidating San Diego Padres and their own All-Star ace. There is seldom much margin for error for Alcantara and it was even more so the case this time.
The Padres did give him a challenge — Alcantara battled an unusually high pitch count through four innings and was uncharacteristically reliant on strikeouts — and still he rose to it to end his team’s misery for at least one night.
It was another seven scoreless innings for the All-Star starting pitcher and, finally after losing 10 of 13 to start August, a 3-0 win for the Marlins in front of 9,123 at loanDepot park.
“We’ve been through a lot of things, we’ve been losing a lot of games. I just wanted to go outside and try to break that,” Alcantara said. “We did it tonight.”
Ultimately, it wound up being the perfect showcase for all the reasons why Alcantara is the favorite to win the Cy Young Award with less than two months left in the season.
When San Diego through waves of veteran hitters and All-Stars at him in the first few innings Monday, Alcantara mowed them down, setting the tone with six strikeouts in the first three innings. When he finally settled in, Alcantara shifted back to the efficient style he has ridden to the top of the National League, retiring nine of the final 10 batters he faced in the last three innings to outduel All-Star starting pitcher Joe Musgrove in Miami.
Alcantara’s final line mimicked some of his best of the season: The 25-year-old Dominican went seven innings, while giving up just four hits, two walks and no runs, and striking out seven. His ERA is down to 1.92 — the best in the National League and second best in MLB — and his 152 strikeouts are fourth most in the NL.
Alcantara has now thrown 173 innings this year — 20 1/3 more than anyone else in the Majors. If the Marlins (51-65) weren’t out of contention, Alcantara might even be a contender for an MLB Most Valuable Player Award.
“We thought he was six tonight. We didn’t think he’d get to seven, then all of a sudden he had those quick innings,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s got pitches for the multiple times through the order. ... When he has those quick innings, he’s just pounding it in the strike zone.”
In this game, the right-handed pitcher’s performance was so good even Miami’s anemic offense, which has now failed to score more than three runs in 16 straight games, couldn’t ruin it.
The Marlins’ 16-game run of this particular type of offensive futility is the longest such streak since 1979. The record for most consecutive games without scoring more than three runs is 19, set by the Cleveland Indians in 1942.
The Marlins, however, did give Alcantara help early when rookie outfielder JJ Bleday hit a solo home run in the second inning and shortstop Miguel Rojas pushed the lead to 2-0 when he scored on a sacrifice fly by first baseman Lewin Diaz. Once Miami saddled him to a 3-0 lead on another run by Rojas in sixth, Alcantara had the sort of minimal help he usually needs to win.
The Padres (65-52) never came close to scoring on him, either. San Diego only once put a runner in scoring position against the starter — when All-Star outfielder Juan Soto drew a two-out walk in the third and All-Star third baseman Manny Machado pushed him to second with a single — and Alcantara promptly struck out slugger Josh Bell, the next batter he faced, to end the inning.
Of Alcantara’s seven strikeouts, two came against Bell, one against Soto and one against star utility man Brandon Drury.
Said Mattingly: “It doesn’t really matter who anymore.”