Sandy Alcantara is doing things no one else in the Majors is doing.
"El Caballo." The Horse. Sandy Alcantara's nickname either comes from his workhorse
mentality on the mound or the long face due to the lack of run-support the Marlins offense
produces for him every 5th day. In 2022, Alcantara has brought an electric energy on the
bump that Marlins fan have not had the luxury of experiencing since the passing of Jose
Fernandez in 2016.
Sandy vs. St. Louis
On Wednesday night, Sandy Alcantara took the mound to face the team that traded him in 2017. Entering the game, Alcantara had a 0.99 ERA in 27.1 innings against his former club, yet a career record of 0-3. The Marlins walked into Wednesday trying to avoid a sweep and end with a winning record for the month of June at 15-13.
After a single, a stolen base, and a fielding error by first baseman Garrett Cooper, the Cardinals threw the first punch, scoring an unearned run on a sac-fly by Dylan Carlson in the bottom of the 3rd. The Marlins answered in the top of the 4th on a Jesus Aguilar RBI single, then took the lead in the top of the 5th on a double-play groundball by Bryan De La Cruz with the bases loaded. However, pitching with the lead in the bottom half of the 5th, Alcantara allowed two earned runs. After getting out of the long inning he had 74 pitches through 5, which not only put a question mark on the result of a game the Marlins were now trailing, but also put Sandy’s streak of nine starts going 7 innings or more at risk.
Sandy refocused, setting down 10 of the next 11 Cardinals hitters he faced, allowing him to continue his streak and keeping the Marlins in the game. As he walked off the mound in the 8th, you could see the pain of facing another 1-run loss in yet another fabulous effort from the Marlins ace; and against his old team no less. 103 pitches, 6 hits, 1 walk, 3 runs (2 earned), 8 innings, and possibly another loss.
Coming into the game was the Cardinals closer, Ryan Helsley, who has really stepped up in 2022 for the Cardinals' injured bullpen, holding a 0.30 ERA entering Wednesday. The game was over, and Sandy was visibly frustrated. After a leadoff walk by Garrett Cooper, Jesus Sanchez and Jesus Aguilar promptly struck out, leaving the Marlins down to their final out with a runner at first and a one run deficit to overcome. A struggling Avisail Garcia stepped up to the plate. He turned around a 98.8 MPH fastball and left the yard against the closer who has been nearly unhittable in 2022. 4-3 Marlins. Sandy had to once again zone in, as it was clear he would get the opportunity to finish the game, even at 103 pitches.
Bottom of the 9th
Sandy returned to the mound for the bottom of the ninth, where he got a quick first out, followed by a walk and a single. Manager Don Mattingly made the slow walk to the mound, where he was met by the catcher, Jacob Stallings, and each of the infielders. The message was clear from the team; if the Marlins were going to lose the game, they wanted to do it with Sandy Alcantara on the mound. He had not only earned this opportunity, but just two weeks prior, the Marlins were in a very similar situation in Philadelphia. Mattingly pulled Alcantara and brought in Steven Okert, who gave up the game-tying run on the first pitch he threw, eventually leading to an extra-inning Phillies walk-off win. This time however, with Sandy at 115 pitches, Don decided to leave Sandy in. Just two pitches later, Sandy got the game ending double-play. He immediately pointed a finger at his manager, almost thanking him for making the decision to trust his ace.
Sandy in the Spotlight
This game seemed to finally bring the attention the Miami ace deserves. Playing in a smaller market for an sub-500 ballclub has kind of pushed the right-hander under the rug from the national media. Sandy’s 1.95 ERA lands him in 3rd place in the MLB rankings and 2nd in the NL. He leads all of MLB in innings pitched by 11.2 innings, and also leads the Majors in pitches per game at 102.4.
Sandy is one of only two Major League starters in 2022 to average 100 or more pitches per start, the other being Corbin Burnes at 100.3. In 2015, The league average for innings pitched per game started was 5.81. Just 5 years later in 2020, the number had fallen to 4.73. In 2022, Sandy is averaging 7.21 innings pitched per start, nearly 2.5 more innings than the 2020 league average.
Sandy works these innings efficiently too, leading the MLB in pitches per inning by starters, averaging just 14.21. Most people see Sandy's pitch arsenal, with a fastball velocity between 97 to 100 MPH, and believe he is a high strikeout pitcher. However, Sandy would not be able to be the inning-eating workhorse he is and average a high strikeout rate, only tallying 7.57 strikeouts per nine in 2022, and 7.88 strikeouts per nine in his career. This has played a major part in his success throughout his career. He keeps the ball on the ground and creates soft contact off the bat, ranking in the 85th percentile in average exit velocity in 2022.
The question for 2022 is not if Sandy will make the All-Star Game, but if he will start it for the
National League. The All-Star Game starter is determined by the manager of the team, in this case Braves manager Brian Snitker, who has seen a lot of Sandy in 2022; his team has been on the wrong side of a couple pitching duels this season. On May 28th, Sandy went 8 innings against the Braves, allowing 4 hits, 1 earned run, and striking out 14 in a 4-1 Marlins victory.
After the game, the manager of the reigning World Series champs stated “He’s something else... It’s almost impossible when you get him in that time, that 4 o'clock game when the shadows come, he’s so hard to hit anyway.” In his 6 starts since, Alcantara has continued to dominate opponents, posting a 3-1 record with a 1.89 ERA in 47.2 Innings pitched. I am sure that the buzz around the Braves division rival has not gone unnoticed.
2022 will be the second All-Star Game in his career. He was an All-Star in 2019, though it felt
forced, as every team is required to have at least one representative. Sandy was just the Marlins' best option. Alcantara held a respectable 3.42 ERA across his 17 games started before the All-Star break in 2019. The next year, however, in the shortened Covid season, he looked a lot more impressive with a 3.00 ERA over 7 starts. Sandy kept the momentum going into 2021, putting up an ERA of 3.19 in his best full season to this point in his career, with a 1.07 WHIP. Now in his fourth full big league season in 2022, he is doing it on a whole different level.
In 2021, Sandy Alcantara had a record of 9-15, even with a 3.19 ERA. His run support was low,
getting an average of 3.72 runs produced by his offense per start. In 2022, Sandy has pitched to the tune of a 8-3 record, even though his run support has gotten even worse, getting only an average of 2.50 runs scored by his offense in his starts. This, in my opinion, is the biggest sign of growth. His offense is scoring over a run less in his starts, yet he is outdueling opponents by getting the winning decision a majority of the time. A prime example of this is his start on June 8th against the Washington Nationals, where he went 9 scoreless innings on six hits, striking out six, and walking away with a no-decision. It took a tenth inning walk-off for the Marlins to come out on top, as they were not able to produce a run while Sandy was pitching.
Sky's the Limit
Sandy Alcantara has turned into arguably the best pitcher in baseball in the 2022 season, giving the Miami Marlins a chance to win anytime he toes the rubber. He has the opportunity to be the first Marlin to start the All-Star Game on the mound, an achievement not even Marlin greats like Jose Fernandez or Dontrelle Willis accomplished. If he stays on pace, he may win the Marlins' first Cy Young Award, and maybe even capture a few MVP votes. Sandy Alcantara has the opportunity to cement himself not only in the Marlins history books, but the MLB history books as well.