The never-say-die Miami Marlins (77-72) did it again on Saturday, rallying for their second straight win over the powerhouse Atlanta Braves (96-52) to keep pace in the impossibly tight NL Wild Card race. The Fish will now go for an improbable sweep on Sunday afternoon, with first pitch from loanDepot Park set for 1:40 p.m. ET. Atlanta will send Charlie Morton (14-11, 3.42 ERA) to the mound, while Miami counters with lefty Jesus Luzardo (9-9, 3.82).
The Braves have clinched the NL East and all but wrapped up the top seed in the NL playoffs. The Marlins, meanwhile, have everything to play for: Saturday’s win helped Miami keep pace with the Reds and Diamondbacks, each of whom they trail by a half-game for the third and final Wild Card spot. Miami will continue its homestand next week with three games against the Mets starting Monday.
Atlanta enters as -130 favorites on the moneyline at DraftKings Sportsbook, with the Marlins at +110. The run total is set at 8.
Braves-Marlins picks: Sunday, September 17
Day-to-day: OF Ronald Acuna Jr. (right calf tightness)
Out: RP Dylan Lee (left shoulder inflammation), RP Collin McHugh (right shoulder inflammation), SP Michael Soroka (right forearm inflammation)
Day-to-day: OF Bryan De La Cruz (right ankle discomfort)
Out: SP Sandy Alcantara (right UCL sprain), DH/OF Jorge Soler (right oblique strain), OF Avisail Garcia (left hamstring strain), RP Huascar Brazoban (left hamstring strain, left hip impingement)
Charlie Morton vs. Jesus Luzardo
Morton was one of the best pitchers in the league in August (1.91 ERA, 37 Ks in 28.1 innings), but alas, the full Charlie Morton Experience has reared its head so far this month. Sure, the righty has a wicked curveball and as much strikeout potential as anyone, but he also is prone to losing his command for starts at a time: Morton has given up six runs across 10 innings in two September starts, in large part thanks to seven walks. Granted, he’s had two tough matchups against the Dodgers and Phillies, and if he can get back around the strike zone today, he could thrive — especially against a Marlins team he’s dominated this year (one runs over 12.2 innings across two starts).
Speaking of command issues: Luzardo too has electric stuff, but he has a nasty habit of catching the middle of the plate with it too often. That inconsistency makes him among the biggest boom-or-bust pitchers in baseball, capable of brilliance (three hits, 15 Ks over 12 shutout innings in his final two starts of August) and ugliness (23 hits, 17 runs and a 11.68 ERA over his first three starts of August). His last start was most definitely the latter, with six runs on 10 hits in five innings against the Brewers earlier this week. He’s faced the Braves once this year, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits and three walks in 5.2 innings back in early May.
The first two games in this series have seen run totals of 15 and 16, and while I’m not expecting another slugfest on Sunday necessarily, I’m still backing the over. Luzardo looked rough last time out, and if he has the same spotty command again, he won’t last long against the Braves lineup. Morton matches up far better against the Marlins, but if Miami can even contribute two or three runs to this total, we should be in good shape.
Pick: Over 8
Both of these starters are wildly unpredictable, but I trust Morton more here against a Marlins crew that’s had a hard time against right-handed pitchers — Morton especially — all year long. Atlanta’s offense will do its usual thing, and that should be all the run support he needs to help the Braves avoid a sweep.
Pick: Braves -130