Despite having the lowest payroll and one of the youngest rosters in baseball, the Florida Marlins have a chance to match the longest winning streak in franchise history as they open a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.
While Dontrelle Willis, one of the team’s few veterans despite being just 24, tries to set the club record for wins, the Marlins will be looking to win their ninth consecutive game. That would equal the team mark set from May 6-14, 1996, and matched Aug. 27-Sept. 8, 2004.
“I just like how, regardless of how we were playing, we were still coming in and working hard and still believing,” Willis said. “Now it’s starting to pay off.”
The Marlins (28-37) leave Dolphin Stadium after winning six straight there, completing the fourth undefeated homestand of at least six games in club history with Sunday’s 4-1 win over Roy Halladay and the Toronto Blue Jays.
“People who play the game and know the game, see we have a good team,” said second baseman Dan Uggla, one of 18 rookies the Marlins have played this season. “I don’t think anybody took us lightly. They knew they were going to have to battle to beat us. Now they have to battle even harder to beat us.”
Uggla is among the hottest Marlins at the plate, batting .372 (16-for-43) with five homers and 12 RBIs over the team’s last 10 games. Mike Jacobs has batted .484 (15-for-31) with three homers during his last nine games, Miguel Cabrera is hitting .391 (9-for-23) with seven runs in his last seven and Miguel Olivo is 7-for-15 with six RBIs in his last five.
The Marlins have the majors’ best record since May 22 at 18-6. Florida has won all three starts made by Willis (3-6, 4.39 ERA) during that stretch.
He won two straight outings before missing out on his first chance to notch his 50th victory and break a tie with A.J. Burnett for the club record. Willis had not allowed more than two earned runs in five consecutive starts, but gave up five runs—four earned—and nine hits in seven innings in a 6-5, 10-inning victory over Atlanta on Wednesday.
“I had to battle,” said Willis, who allowed two homers for the third time in six starts. “They hit some good pitches and I made some bad pitches.”
Willis has pitched at least seven innings in five of his last six appearances.
He will be opposed by Daniel Cabrera (4-3, 4.17 ERA). The right-hander had thrown 11 straight scoreless innings while winning his previous two starts before allowing three runs, five hits and three walks in six innings of a 4-2 loss on Thursday at Toronto.
It was his third start since spending being on the 15-day disabled list due to right shoulder tightness. With 63 strikeouts in 58 1-3 innings, Cabrera has a 9.72 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio, which is third in the majors for pitchers with at least 50 innings, trailing Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano (10.34) and the Mets’ Pedro Martinez (9.91).
“He really looks like he’s got his control back,” Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez said of Cabrera. “He’s putting the ball where he wants with high velocity. When he needs to make a pitch to get out of a jam, he’s making those pitches. That’s why he is pitching so well.”
Neither starting pitcher has faced his opponent on Tuesday.
The Orioles failed to complete a three-game road sweep of the New York Mets on Sunday, losing 9-4.
The Marlins are 11-4 all-time against the Orioles, but 3-3 in Camden Yards.