(Photo credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports)
The Miami Marlins, who are set to host the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, are perhaps the most improved team in the National League.
Last year, Miami won just 69 games. This season, the Marlins -- after beating the Braves 9-6 on Friday in the opener of a three-game series -- boast a 76-72 record andenter Saturday just a half-game back of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds for the final NL wild-card spot.
The Marlins' improvement this can be traced to numerous factors, including potential NL Manager of the Year Skip Schumaker, who has gotten the most out of the roster.
Luis Arraez, who leads the majors with a .349 batting average, has been the catalyst for Miami's offense. He went deep twice on Friday in the first multi-homer game of his career.
"I just try to get hits," Arraez said. "If I get homers, I'll take it."
The Marlins are starting to get healthier as center fielder Jazz Chisholm Jr. (knee) returned after missing one game and slugger Jorge Soler (oblique) may be back soon.
Chisholm, who has 16 homers and a team-high 19 steals, went 1-for-4 with a run scored on Friday.
Soler, who leads Miami with 35 homers, hasn't played since Sept. 5, but he has been taking batting practice.
On the mound, Tanner Scott -- who earned his ninth save on Friday -- has been a pleasant surprise. Entering this weekend, he ranked in the top 10 among all relievers in strikeouts, holds and innings.
Scott is 7-4 with a 2.18 ERA and nine saves, making him one of the most improved pitchers in the majors. Consider that Scott had a 5.17 ERA in 2021 and a 4.31 ERA in 2022.
The Marlins on Saturday will start right-hander Bryan Hoeing (2-2, 4.04 ERA). Hoeing, who turns 27 next month, is 0-2 with 13.03 ERA in four career games against Atlanta, including two starts.
The Braves (96-51), who have already clinched their sixth straight NL East title, announced that lefty Jared Shuster would start Saturday. The rookie will be making his 11th big-league start and the first against the Marlins.
Shuster last pitched in the majors when he lost to the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 27. In 4 2/3 innings, he surrendered four runs on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts. The Braves summoned him back from Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday.
Atlanta may be without star right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. on Saturday. He left Friday's game in the eighth inning due to tightness in his right calf.
The Braves are in a tricky spot. They want to keep using their stars so they can stay sharp for the playoffs. But they also don't want to overextend them, especially a player such as Acuna, who had right-knee surgery in July 2021.
Acuna leads the majors with 66 steals and is three homers shy of his first 40-40 season.
"I feel good," Acuna said after Friday's game. "It just felt like a cramp. Let's see how I feel (on Saturday) and if I can play."
Either way, the Braves are fortunate that they have many other stars, including center fielder Michael Harris II, who homered on Friday.
Harris, the NL's Rookie of the Year in 2022, has elite speed and is a plus-plus defender. He gets great jumps on defense and has a stellar arm and excellent range.
In 238 big league games, he has 36 homers and 40 steals.
--Field Level Media