While it’s still the first week of May, the Miami Marlins can move into first place in the National League East with a win on Wednesday and some help from the St. Louis Cardinals. After losing 100 games for just the second time in franchise history last season, the Marlins have without a doubt been one of the better stories in baseball thus far.
With an 18-15 overall record, Miami has done most of its damage at home. The Fish are a stellar 16-5 at home and 7-1 on their current nine-game homestand which has included match-ups against the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. After struggling to put people in the stands last season, playing well at home should give South Florida a reason to come watch its team.
Making Miami’s stellar start even more improbable is the fact that the Marlins are just 2-10 on the road and have already endured an 8-game losing streak this season. Who to credit for Miami’s resiliency remains in question, but adding veterans like Garrett Jones and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the offseason could have something to do with it.
Saltalamacchia and Jones have added protection for Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup and Stanton has proceeded to make the most of it. In fact, if the season ended today, it would be hard to give the National League MVP award to anyone else. Stanton currently leads the National League with 10 home runs while topping all of baseball with 38 RBIs.
Although Stanton has carried the Marlin offense, a number of other players have shown a flair for the dramatic. Over the last three days, both Jeff Baker and Casey McGehee have delivered walk-off hits. McGehee, who played in Japan last season, has been perhaps Miami’s biggest surprise. While hitting in the four-spot for most of the season, McGehee has delivered 23 RBIs — good for ninth in the National League — and is currently batting .315. Known for being a free-swinging, all or nothing player in Milwaukee, McGehee has done his damage without yet leaving the yard this season.
Miami’s veterans have played a huge role in the Marlins’ early success, but the younger players have contributed as well. Outfielders Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria are an average age of just 23 years old, but the three have combined to hit .282 with 37 RBIs, seven home runs and six triples to this point.
As Stanton has the Miami lineup, Jose Fernandez has fueled the Miami rotation. The 2013 National League Rookie of the Year is off to a Cy Young-like start. Fernandez is 4-1 on the young season and his 1.74 earned run average ranks fourth in all of baseball. Fernandez leads the majors with 65 strikeouts as well.
While Fernandez has certainly anchored the rotation, he has not been its lone bright spot unlike last season. Fellow starters Tom Koehler and Nathan Eovaldi have been steady through the first month of the season while Henderson Alvarez is one of only two players to pitch a pair of complete game shutouts this season. Dating back to the final day of last season, Alvarez has tossed three shutouts in his last eight starts.
Though the Marlins have much to feel good about early on, one area of concern has been the bullpen. Closer Steve Cishek has pitched well, but set-up men like A.J. Ramos, Carlos Marmol and Mike Dunn have all had their struggles. If Miami can stay relevant into July, this will be an area that the Fish must address near the trade deadline.
Whether the Marlins have staying power or not will remain to be seen over the next few months, but regardless of what happens down the road, one thing is clear: the Marlins are heading in the right direction. After yet another fire sale prior to the start of last season, many believed that Miami was headed for years of futility. In replacing the accomplished Ozzie Guillen, former Marlins’ catcher Mike Redmond was hardly the most celebrated hire to become the team’s skipper, but Redmond has shown a firm grasp of the club from day one.
The Marlins were busy this offseason signing second-tier free agents like Jones and Saltalamacchia, who had each come from playoff teams in 2013. Existing stars like Stanton and Fernandez have been as good as advertised and the maturity of young players forced into the lineup a season ago has been immense both at the plate and on the mound. Only time will tell what is to come of this season, but what the Miami Marlins have been able to do over the first month of the 2014 campaign has been nothing shy of remarkable.