On the verge of elimination from the playoff chase, the Florida Marlins are falling apart.
The Marlins lost 4-0 to the Nationals in Monday’s series opener, their fourth straight defeat and 10th in 12 games. Florida fell 5 1/2 games behind the idle Houston Astros in the NL wild-card race and will be eliminated from contention with one more loss or one more Houston win.
Cristian Guzman had three hits and three RBIs for the Nationals, who have already been eliminated from the postseason. Washington, which has won just two of nine, snapped a three-game losing streak.
Even before the game started things were looking pretty bleak for the Marlins. Slugger Miguel Cabrera was benched for one game for undisclosed disciplinary reasons and manager Jack McKeon, who led the team to a 2003 World Series title, hinted that he wouldn’t return next season.
Those developments came one day after starter A.J. Burnett said the team plays scared because McKeon and the coaching staff are too negative.
After Monday’s game, the Marlins announced they sent Burnett home for the remainder of the season.
“In the best interest of the team, A.J. was advised to leave the team and he has done so,” general manager Larry Beinfest said. “There will be no multiyear contract offer made to him.”
Willis will hope to finally give the Marlins something to feel good about. The 23-year-old left-hander earned his major league-best 22nd win on Thursday, allowing one run and five hits in eight innings of a 2-1 win over Pedro Martinez and the New York Mets.
Willis, who has not given up more than two earned runs in his last 12 starts, even hit seventh in Florida’s lineup. Willis went 1-for-4 and is 22-for-88 (.250) this season.
“I hit him seventh because he’s a pretty good hitter,” McKeon said. “He’s got more RBIs than the two guys behind him. He’s got more at-bats and more hits than either one of them have in their whole career. It was not a tough choice.”
Willis became the first 20-game winner in Marlins history on Sept. 7 when he beat Washington 12-1. He has won each of his three starts against the Nationals this season, compiling a 1.71 ERA.
“Certain pitchers just have your number,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.