PHILADELPHIA -- The Marlins are bringing plenty of confidence into a big series this weekend at home against the Mets.
They beat the Phillies on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park, 9-3, to win three games in the four-game series. After opening the second half of the season by going 5-2 on a seven-game road trip, Miami has moved within 4 1/2 games of the Nationals in the National League East, while maintaining a 1 1/2-game lead over the Mets for the second NL Wild Card.
"One of the things you worry about, going into the break, we were playing pretty good," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "One of the things we talked about as a team was that we really needed to be ready to play when we start the second half."
Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich sparked a four-run fourth inning when he hit a solo home run to left field, and Ichiro Suzuki picked up the 2,995th and 2,996th hits of his big league career with an infield single in the third and a single to right in the eighth.
"It's been fun," Mattingly said. "It'd be a little different if we knew he was going to play every day, because you know it's just a matter of one day or something like that. But in our situation, it might not be that quick, or it could be quick. But it's been fun. He's been a great guy to watch."
Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler allowed only two hits over eight masterful innings -- on homers by Ryan Howard in the fourth and Freddy Galvis in the eighth -- and also had an RBI single. The Phillies had high hopes entering the second half, but they have lost five of seven since the All-Star break, scoring just 17 runs on the homestand.
"I've been concerned about the hitting all year," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "It's a constant issue that we have to improve upon."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Miami bats wake up: Despite winning seven of their last 10 games entering Thursday's series finale, the Marlins had scored more than five runs in only three of those contests. Their offensive issues were only compounded against starting pitching. In their two seven-run efforts over that span, half the runs were scored against opponents' bullpens. In the first three games of this series, Miami had a .156 average against Phillies starters.
But that changed Thursday. The Marlins rocked starter Jerad Eickhoff for six runs (five earned) over five innings. Four straight reached base to lead off their four-run fourth, comprised of three doubles and Yelich's blast. The Marlins' nine runs were the most since a 9-6 win over the Cubs on June 25, while their 16 hits were the most since they had 17 in a July 4 loss to the Mets.
"Tonight was nice to be able to add on," Mattingly said. "That really allowed us to not even get guys up [in the bullpen]. We've had a tendency to kind of jump on teams and get some runs, then kind of hang around and not score. Tonight we were able to score."
Erratic Eickhoff: After allowing a career-high eight runs in 5 1/3 innings July 9 in Colorado, he allowed nine hits Thursday and has an 8.27 ERA in his last three starts. Mackanin thought Eickhoff needed to throw his curveball more, especially in the four-run fourth inning. Eickhoff agreed.
"Looking back after the outing was over, there were definitely times I could have used it more," he said. "It was just unfortunate I wasn't able to realize that myself and throw that more in the game in that fourth inning."
Quality Koehler: Nothing like facing baseball's second-worst offense to break a starter out of a slump. Koehler entered Thursday's game having made it out of the fifth in just one of his past four starts, with a 7.88 ERA over that span. He retired the first 10 Phillies he faced and didn't allow a hit until Howard's homer
Thursday's outing continued a string of success for Koehler against the Phillies this season. Making his third start against them, Koehler lowered his ERA to 1.64. It was his first quality start since June 19.
"I'm not the prettiest perfect pitcher," Koehler said. "I understand that some games are gutsy and you've got to find that competitive edge. … I needed to pitch better than I had been, and I did that tonight." More >
Howard's Day: Howard began his day in South Philadelphia, where the Phillies named their new Urban Youth Academy the "Ryan Howard Training Center." A few hours later, he hit his 14th homer. Howard and fellow first baseman Tommy Joseph have combined for 27 home runs this season.
"I don't know man, it's crazy. We were talking about it. I don't know if we try to do too much here at home, but every time we go on the road, we click, man. Everything goes good, you know? I don't know if it's a little bit of us trying to do too much here. And if we're trying to do too much, it's not going to happen. We have to just let it go and do what we have to do, and that's it." -- Galvis, on the Phillies averaging 2.9 runs per game at home compared to 4.3 runs per game on the road.
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In Koehler's three starts against the Phillies, he has pitched 22 innings and allowed just four earned runs for a 1.64 ERA. In his other 17 starts, Koehler's ERA sits at 5.14.
WHAT'S NEXT Marlins: Miami heads back home for a 10-game homestand and a weekend set against the Mets with big implications Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. New York arrived almost two full days ahead of the Marlins, playing a day game Wednesday and having Thursday off, while Miami played two night games in Philadelphia. Adam Conley (6-5, 3.61 ERA) will start vs. the Mets' Logan Verrett (3-6, 4.21 ERA) in the first of three NL East showdowns.
Phillies: Philadelphia begins a three-city, 10-game road trip Friday night at 7:05 ET in Pittsburgh. Right-hander Zach Eflin (2-3, 4.14 ERA), who is 2-2 with a 2.56 ERA in six starts since his big league debut June 14 in Toronto, will get the start against Gerrit Cole.