MIAMI – Jake Burger still has two paper Burger King hats on top of his locker.
After slapping a walk-off single two Sundays ago against the New York Yankees, the third baseman was surprised the next day with a tower of Burger King Whoppers waiting for him at his stall. It was an obvious play on his last name, a grasp at the low-hanging fruit.
“It’s a good nickname, Burger King,” Burger said before Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Washington Nationals.
Every King needs his Burger. ????????
— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) August 14, 2023
It’s also a microcosm of Burger’s first month with the Marlins.
Sure, the last name made him an easy win for the fans. But his production on the field has also played a part in his early popularity.
Burger, 27, is only in his third year in the majors, but is in the midst of a breakout season. He batted just .214, but also smacked 25 home runs and 52 RBIs for a .806 OPS in 88 games with the Chicago White Sox. That’s why he was a bit surprised when he found out he was traded to the Marlins at the deadline for AA pitching prospect Jake Eder.
“It’s definitely a whirlwind of emotions,” Burger said. “Obviously you’re leaving some of your old friends, but excited to meet some new friends.”
It wasn’t a splashy trade that had everyone in the baseball community tuned in. Plus, the Marlins also traded for first baseman Josh Bell and pitchers David Robertson and Ryan Weathers, keeping the Burger transaction under the radar.
But so far, Burger has been as advertised.
Before Sunday’s game, he’d played in 22 as a Marlin, batting .349 with a .901 OPS. The power hasn’t carried over yet — Burger has just two home runs so far — but his strikeout rate has dropped from a very high 31.6% to 19.8%. That was one of his weaknesses before arriving in Miami, and he credits hitting coaches Brant Brown and John Mabry for potentially finding a solution.
“For me, it’s always been about barrel accuracy and trying to get the bat on the ball as much as I can because when I do impact, I hit it pretty hard,” Burger said.
The Marlins embraced Burger from the get-go when he made his debut Aug. 2 against the Philadelphia Phillies. They commemorated his first game as Marlin with $5 burgers at loanDepot Park. He went 2-for-4 with a walk and a run that night.
Burger, a St. Louis native, said he remembers going to Cardinals games as a kid. He had an admiration for the players and being able to occasionally interact with them made it extra special. He hopes to return that deed to “the next generation of baseball.”
“None of us would be here without them,” he said, “so that’s kind of how I’ve always viewed it. I don’t consider myself better than anyone else. We’re all humans and we just treat people with respect and that’s how we make great change in this world.
“Even when my wife and kid are on the stands, fans are coming up and introducing themselves and just saying they’re happy we’re here. That’s really special for me because that’s one of the most important parts of this job is just that interaction with the fans.”
The problem is Burger’s addition – along with the three other trade acquisitions – hasn’t translated to wins. In fact, they’ve done the opposite.
Since Aug. 1, the Marlins are 9-15. Take it back another month, and they’re 18-30. The Marlins record dropped to .500 Saturday (65-65) for the first time since May 26.
“We’ve had great starting pitching,” Burger said. “Obviously we’re not picking up our part on the offensive side. It’s just taking it at-bat by at-bat, not really trying to do too much.
“Obviously when you’re scuffling a little bit offensively as a team and as a whole, it’s really easy to try and hit a five-run home run every at-bat rather than just take it on base, give it to the next guy and just keep passing the baton.”
The Marlins avoided a three-game sweep by the 61-70 Nationals Sunday afternoon. The game got hairy in the top of the ninth when the Nationals put two runners on base with one out, but Berger helped turn a double-play to end the game.
They are only a few games out of the playoffs thanks to the hot start to the season. The Marlins, now 66-65, were 53-39 at the All-Star break.
“We have to score more runs so it’s not one-run games,” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said. “We’re playing with fire in the ninth inning and as good as we’ve been in one-run games, we can’t keep doing that.”
But if they hope to be playing extra baseball in October, they will need to rekindle that magic from the first half of the season.