By Michael Eccleston
Oh, you read that right. You are not just seeing things.
Bad news for Mets fans: This Miami Marlins team is good. There’s always that one team that comes out of nowhere and shows that they’re for real, and it appears that the Marlins are that team in 2016.
It all starts with Miami’s star-studded outfield, which is one of the best in all of baseball. It consists of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich. Yelich is just 24 years old and is quietly becoming one of the better hitters in the major leagues. When I think of my prototypical number 3 hitter, it’s Yelich. The left fielder is hitting .326 with 10 home runs and 54 RBI in 2016. He’s not a big time home run threat, but he’s a gap to gap hitter who is pesky, and gets the job done setting the table for Stanton and Ozuna. Everyone should know about Giancarlo Stanton by now. He’s struggled a bit this season but is still one of the greatest power hitter the game has ever seen. The 26 year old right fielder can take any pitch out of any ballpark at any time. In the home run derby, he made one of the biggest parks in the league, Petco Park, look like a bandbox. Lets just put it this way: Stanton has struggled this year and 35 home runs is still very much within reach. He’s currently hitting .241 with 21 home runs and 55 RBI. Then there’s Marcell Ozuna, another Marlin who is quietly putting together an impressive year. He’s hitting .299 with 17 home runs and 52 RBI. Keep in mind that the Marlins play in a very difficult park to hit in.
These young outfielders who average the age of 25 have been the meat of this potent lineup. Catcher J.T. Realmuto has been batting leadoff often since Dee Gordon was suspended, and he’s become a table setter as well. He’s hitting .312 with 10 stolen bases as the catcher… That’s almost unheard of. Second baseman Derek Dietrich has finally gotten his chance to step up as a starter and he’s hitting .281 with 30 RBI. Add 42 year old Ichiro Suzuki to the mix. Dude, just don’t retire. The Marlins have done a great job mixing and matching, giving these outfielders a rest and plugging Ichiro into the right places. Ichiro is hitting .339 with 8 stolen bases as the fourth outfielder! I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Miami is getting one of their power threats in first baseman Justin Bour and their catalyst Dee Gordon back soon.
Wow. It isn’t very often you see lineups with so many hitters hitting for an average of either close to or above .300.
If you haven’t noticed a common theme for everyone I’ve mentioned outside of Ichiro, it’s age. The oldest player I’ve brought up outside of Ichiro is Dietrich at 27. This Marlins lineup is young and filled with all the potential in the world.
Another thing the Marlins have going for them is that bullpen. From closer A.J. Ramos who has an ERA of just over 2, has converted 31 of his 32 save opportunities, and has struck out 52 hitters in 40 innings flat. He’s been dominant. They recently acquired Fernando Rodney, who was another All Star this season, to solidify the setup role. He’s pitched to an ERA of 1.36 this year. David Phelps, Kyle Barraclough, Mike Dunn, Nick Wittgren, and Dustin McGowan have all pitched exceptionally well in the middle innings when the starters have struggled. That’s huge for a team with postseason aspirations.
Now, onto what could potentially be their downfall in my eyes as currently constructed: Their pitching rotation. Yes, we all know that Jose Fernandez is one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball, and no, I would not want to see him 2 or 3 times in a playoff series, but outside of him, there isn’t too much to fear here. 26 year old Adam Conley has been impressive this season, pitching to an ERA of 3.58 and striking out nearly a batter per inning, but as of right now I view him as a great number 3 starter. In my opinion, the Marlins need to add a solid starter to go along with Fernandez and Conley if they expect to go far this year. To me, you need at least three starting pitchers that you can absolutely count on to get you home in the postseason. Wei-Yin Chen HAS NOT proven to be that guy for them.
The New York Mets and Washington Nationals were expected to be at the top of the National League Eastern division, and the Nationals have played well enough to be in first place. As for the Mets, the reigning National League Champs had better get going and fast, because not only are they currently looking up to the Nationals, but at the Marlins as well. The Marlins may have just lost this past series against New York, but Miami will make August and September a lot more interesting than expected.
New manager Don Mattingly has done a remarkable job with this Marlins team in his first year, and they have something cooking if they manage to sign their core group. This could be a very dangerous team for years to come.