Sandy Alcantara raises his game — and takes Miami Marlins with him – The Denver Post


Four days a week the Miami Marlins are a mediocre team hoping everything goes right to have a winning chance.

Every fifth day they’re the best team in baseball.

“It’s a special day,” pitcher Braxton Garrett said of the games like Sunday when Sandy Alcantara starts for the Marlins against the New York Mets.

The old Miami Dolphins, the ones of the 1980s and 1990s, spoke of walking on a field beside Dan Marino with a strut in their step simply because of their quarterback.

The Marlins are no different when Alcantara takes the mound this summer.

“You see it, everyone knows it could be a good day,” said starter Pablo Lopez, a talent himself. “That’s what he brings when he walks out there.”

Just ask the best everyday player in baseball.

“That’s right up there with as good of stuff as we’ve seen all year,” Mike Trout, said this past week after Alcantara went eight shutout innings against his Los Angeles Angels. “He dominated.”

Alcantara has ascended to the best player in South Florida sports, and you don’t need to talk to anyone or translate his talent to understand why. Just look at his numbers.

It only sketches his value to show he ranks fourth in the majors with nine wins, third with a 1.82 earned-run averaged and tied for fourth with 13 quality starts.

Here’s the meat of Alcantara’s impact: In his past 11 starts, the Marlins are 9-2. They’re 30-40 the rest of the season. He’s pitched at least seven innings in each of those 11 starts, too. No pitcher has more than three such stats this season. It’s more than any pitcher had last season, too.

In this age of the diminished starter, where pitching five innings is the bar of success, Alcantara’s throwing is throwback. Pitching deep into games demands dodging modern thinking, pitch counts and analytics showing a pitcher’s third time through the opposing batting lineup is a dangerous gambit. It also says a revered stat like strikeouts is a trap.

“Everyone likes strikeouts,” Lopez said. “Strikeouts are a sign of dominance. When you strike a guy out, it means that your stuff is playing that day, your mix is right, you had a guy guessing and searching for something and didn’t give it to him. But strikeouts often go deep in the count, which means more pitches, which makes it harder to go deep in the game.”

Alcantara still ranks 10th in strikeouts, but that’s more a reflection of pitching more innings than anyone than a mindset. He doesn’t nibble corners with pitches or tease off the plate to go for strikeouts. He attacks with pitches. He wants quicker outs.

“He challenges batters,” Lopez said. “He goes for contact to get a ground ball or a pop out. That keeps you in the game longer.”

It also allows manager Don Mattingly some strategic flexibility with his relievers.

“You know your bullpen is getting a rest when he starts,” Mattingly said. “You need one guy, maybe two.

“The day before, you know you can kind of use more guys trying to get to [Alcantara’s start]. It’ a little dangerous, one of these days he’s going to have a hiccup. But as of now he’s valuable not just on the day he pitches but he day before and the day after when [relievers] are more rested.”

Alcantara had the good stuff before this year to dominate. Mattingly feels the difference is more in his head than his arm. He’s not too excited to control his pitching form. One example: He threw three, 100-mph pitches in striking out the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani on Tuesday.

“In the past, he tries to go get those pitches and gets out of his delivery,” Mattingly said. “Now he gets it and he’s not having to do a bunch of extra effort or getting his mechanics out of whack.

“I’ve seen him against some of the clubs he’s faced in our division, like the Braves, and you see he’s excited. But he has the confidence to use his pitches and stay within himself.”

The Marlins should have two All-Star starters. Jazz Chisholm was voted in at second base. Alcantara’s prime challenge is from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin, who is 11-0 with a major-leading 1.62 ERA.

Gonsolin has pitched beyond the sixth inning just three times all year. He’s never pitched into the ninth inning. So his perfect record relies on a great team around him in a way Alcantara doesn’t. That’s because there isn’t a great team around him.

Every fifth day he brings the great team to the mound.



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