Jesús Sánchez Makes It Interesting
10:01 AM EDT on September 21, 2021
Jesús Sánchez of the Miami Marlins did something very cool last night. Right away I can sense you rolling your eyes. The Marlins? Do they even exist anymore? Sort of! They played against the Washington Nationals down in Miami Monday night, in front of approximately 14 spectators. The NL East bottom-feeders put up 15 runs between them, traded leads a few times, and took it to extras, which in a September game between the Miami Marlins and the Washington Nationals ought to be a federal crime. The Marlins won it when Jazz Chisholm Jr., one of their many rambunctious and exciting but extremely wild youths, stole third and then came home on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 10th. Neat.
Chisholm—whose name must never be Spoonerized in polite company—was great, and we should take a moment here to appreciate his many contributions, for he too is a very cool youngster. He whanged a pair of solo dongs, drove in a third run with a sacrifice fly, made a sweet stab behind second base to trigger a double play just when it looked like the Nationals might break things open in the sixth, and in general comported himself like someone who could very easily keep you invested in a shitty home team for a decade of non-competitive baseball. It would belittle us both to pretend as though either of us is going to watch a whole lot of Marlins baseball between now and the end of the regular season, but it must be said that the Marlins have some extremely fun kids, and are worth watching. Chisholm rules.
Part of having fun kids, though, is accepting that they're gonna run in wiggly lines and kick the ball all over the place and in general make a big mess. The Marlins lead the majors in errors by a healthy margin, and have the lowest fielding percentage, although even those numbers undersell the chaos of it all. Their outfield in particular is just hilariously scattershot. Even with every opposing baserunner standing stationary on a base, a casual throw back into the infield is likely to spray in some random direction and take four hops before being corralled by a panicking infielder. Lewis Brinson in left field (cool but no longer young) and especially Sánchez in right show no evidence of having ever been properly introduced to the concept of the cut-off man. Their routes on fly balls are pure Family Circus shit. There is quite literally never a dull moment when these goofs are in the field, because dullness, in baseball, comes from performatively somber near-competence. These exuberant Marlins, thank God, are such an incredibly long way from competent.
But incompetence, in the right vessel, can yield some very fun results. In the top of the fourth Monday night, Nationals leadoff man Lane Thomas drove a fly ball into the corner in right. Sánchez, who is a genuinely marvelous athlete but at 23 years old shags flies the way a toddler chases butterflies, made a whole day's worth of dog's meals out of this opportunity, and yet somehow came down with the catch:
Manager Don Mattingly deadpanned after the game that Sánchez "always makes it interesting," but that's pretty much the most you or I will ever dare to hope for from a Marlins rookie, or really from any three-game stretch where one of our teams must face the perpetually rebuilding Marlins. Sánchez's description of the play, characteristically, is much more fun: "I was trying to be very careful with the wall. I was looking at the wall, and then looking at the ball and then suddenly I looked at the ball and I passed the ball completely."
Sánchez also socked a big two-run dinger Monday night, giving him a modest 13 on the season, but in a tantalizing sign of things to come it was his third since Wednesday and his sixth in the last 11 days. Mattingly talked after the game about the exciting possibilities that come from having a couple lively left-handed batters in his lineup, in Chisholm and Sánchez, and while it is for sure too early to count on any of these highlights coalescing into a pattern, a man can certainly dream. Baseball will be better and cooler if and when Sánchez converts all this goofy puppy potential into consistent production. He's already a good show, on a nightly basis.
Probably you will not turn on a Marlins game in late September in order to watch a happy-go-lucky rookie outfielder do a practiced Juan Soto impression on a misfired 0–1 changeup. You've got better things to do, and who can blame you? The Marlins are 22 games under .500 and locked in a deeply meaningless battle for fourth place in the crappy NL East. Even Marlins fans—all 14 of them—should find better ways to spend their evenings. All I'm saying is, Sánchez has lifted his batting average by 21 points in two weeks; his homers make a loud sound and travel a long way; he's feeling good about himself, and when he feels good about himself he does the kind of brazen but endearing showboating that makes a player impossible to ignore whenever they're in your field of vision. For now it's all potential and quite literally signifies nothing, but if we're lucky at all, this recent run portends a fast-approaching day when the reason to watch is because Sánchez and Chisholm are kicking mondo ass, and all the zany hijinks, even tuned to maximum levels, are merely flavoring.