It’s far too early to label any of baseball’s early surprises as contenders, but few would have guessed that after one week of play, the Miami Marlins would own the best record in the National League. Miami let a late lead slip away on Sunday in a 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres, but through seven games, the Marlins are 5-2.
Five wins is a good week for any team throughout Major League Baseball, but particularly impressive in Miami’s case. The Marlins didn’t notch their fifth victory of last season until April 23rd — their 21st game of 2013.
This offseason, the Marlins made an effort to upgrade their roster. With the plethora of moves made, Miami was expected to be better, but few were expecting the Fish to be contenders.
The additions this offseason featured veterans like Garrett Jones, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Rafael Furcal, who had all come from winning atmospheres. Miami has also received contributions from largely forgotten players with something to prove in reliever Carlos Marmol and third baseman Casey McGehee, who spent last season playing in Japan.
How long Miami can remain relevant throughout the course of the 162-game season remains to be seen, but the Marlins are showing fight that they didn’t have throughout the early parts of last season. The Marlins scored four runs in the eighth inning to top the Colorado Rockies on Thursday for an 8-5 victory and nearly did the same to San Diego on Sunday.
After Alexi Amarista’s pinch-hit, three-run shot in the seventh gave the Padres a 3-1 lead on Sunday, the Marlins answered with a run in the following inning and nearly took the lead on a long fly ball from Marcell Ozuna. Miami was unable to get the win, but last year’s squad may have rolled over and died after a blow like the one delivered by Amarista.
The Marlins have been solid early on both at the plate and on the mound. 2013 National League Rookie of the Year, Jose Fernandez has failed to disappoint through two starts. The All-Star is 2-0 for the Fish with an ERA of 0.71 and 17 strikeouts in less than 13 innings pitched.
Nathan Eovaldi couldn’t seal the deal on Sunday, but has also given Miami two quality starts. In his 2014 debut on Saturday, 27-year-old Tom Koehler took a shutout into the sixth inning before picking up his first victory of the season. Koehler was far from a lock to be part of Miami’s rotation, but is making the most of his opportunity as the team’s fifth starter thus far.
While the Marlins’ rotation has been solid, the club’s bullpen has boasted a league-best 0.40 ERA. At the back end, closer Steve Cishek is a perfect 2-for-2 in save opportunities, running his team-record consecutive saves streak to 31 straight games.
At the plate, Miami’s star right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, has more than enjoyed the bulked up protection around him. Stanton has driven in a run in every game while hitting .345 with a pair of homers. Stanton is second in the National League with 12 RBIs while his new teammate, Casey McGehee is just behind him with 10. While Garrett Jones has struggled early on, McGehee and Saltalamacchia have combined to hit .348.
The top and bottom of the order featuring younger players has produced as well. After hitting just .227 a season ago, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria has actually been better at the plate than the field this season. Hechavarria is hitting .393 and is second on the club with six runs scored.
After suffering a season-ending hand injury last July, Marcell Ozuna is hitting .360 and joins Stanton as the only Marlin with a home run this season. Outfielder Christian Yelich has struggled early on, but has come through with big hits including the game-tying single on Thursday and a triple that led to Miami’s first run on Sunday. Second baseman Derek Dietrich also has three hits in seven at-bats through the first week of the season.
The Marlins finished last in virtually every offensive category last season. Through one week of the 2014 season, Miami leads all of baseball with 42 runs scored despite playing each of its seven games at cavernous, pitcher-friendly Marlins Park. The Marlins didn’t score their 42nd run of last season until their 19th game of the year — on April 21st in Cincinnati.
Although it’s far too early to know what’s exactly in store for the Miami Marlins for the remainder of the season, the Fish seem to have a different feel about them in 2014. With plenty of credit going to manager Mike Redmond, Miami has been successful blending a corps of youth and experience to succeed early on.
While Miami still has 155 games left on the slate, the Marlins have shown few weaknesses to this point. With improvement shown from younger Marlins, Stanton and Fernandez look to be on the verge of All-Star seasons.
The Fish have had no trouble plating runs and the bullpen has been lights out. After losing 100 games for just the second time in franchise history a season ago, the Marlins have been one of the best stories throughout baseball during the first week of the 2014 season.