The Marlins have completed the first third of the season. Things are starting to be more structured in how the season will sort out. And for the Marlins, even though things looked very bleak earlier, things look promising for potentially achieving anything this season. Yes, anything – including a third World Series championship.
First, we can begin with the starting pitching. So far, the starting pitching has mostly been what has gone right with the Marlins. Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez, and Carlos Zambrano have done extremely well as a unit. Ricky Nolasco had a quick start, and despite struggling a bit recently, he has still been serviceable. And, despite a very bad start, the ace of the Marlins pitching staff, Josh Johnson, has shown signs of returning back to being one of baseball’s premier starting pitchers. While the performances of the aforementioned four pitchers are indeed pleasant as a whole, as many have stated all along, the hopes of seeing the Marlins progress far lie in Johnson’s performance. And with his continued improvement as the season has gone along, it presents a promising outlook for the rest of the regular season and, possibly, the postseason. If Johnson’s improvement returns him to the dominant force that he was before, that combining with the current performance of the rest of the staff should place the Marlins as a near certain pick to secure a spot in the playoffs. And once there, a combination of Johnson, Buehrle, Zambrano, and Sanchez would certainly match up with any other playoff team’s staff in a 5 or 7 game series, especially with the proposition of a dominant Johnson on the mound twice in a series. This area shows a great deal of possibilities and hope for the Marlins.
Next, we can take a look at the bullpen closing out games. While the Marlins do have nice pieces in place in their bullpen, the reality of baseball is that a bullpen is truly defined in how everything works out in getting that final out. The case with most bullpens comes down to their closer and setup man. For the Marlins, for the first time in a few years, they have a legitimate closer in Heath Bell. While he has struggled, he has started to get back to his usual form as one of baseball’s best closers. If he just gets close to what he’s been in the past, the Marlins will have a very strong bullpen with a shut-down guy at the end. As for setup, while the cast of characters that have served in that role from game to game have done a commendable job, the reality, the Marlins may soon be getting a prime piece to place in that role in a more permanent capacity. While the piece wasn’t that impressive as “Closer Leo Nunez”, that piece has a lot of potential as Setup Man Juan Carlos Oviedo. While many can agree that Oviedo did not have the mental fortitude to be a quality closer, he certainly has shown that he has all of the tools to be a premier setup man. In fact, while some may say that this following statement is crazy, but if Oviedo fits well in that role and Bell is back to form, the Marlins will have the best bullpen “1-2 punch” in the team’s history and potentially one of the better bullpen duos in the history of the game. The combination could essentially turn Marlins games into 7 inning opportunities for opposing lineups. Further, if the rest of the cast such as Randy Choate, Steve Cishek, Edward Mujica, etc. continue to fill their roles, it could turn games into a 6 inning affair to score on the Marlins. Bullpens with that sort of success usually go deep into the postseason. That certainly would add major promise to the Marlins hopes for the remainder of this season.
Finally, we can look at the offense, the current key to how far the Marlins can go for the remainder of this season. For the most part, the Marlins have struggled offensively for about a year. Changes have been made both in the offseason and during this season. While there has been some improvement, the offense has not functioned to its full capabilities. Often it seems that if the Marlins don’t hit a homerun or strike with another form of extra basehit, the offense struggles to make the most of opportunities that have arisen within given innings. There are simply too many men being left on base. However, there are signs that things are coming together and that this offense can become elite once it is running on all cylinders. Obviously the recent story has been Giancarlo Stanton, but other main cogs such as Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes have been performing as well. Both have combined with Stanton to show their value to the team. Ramirez can be seen in his key extra basehits and even stealing bases when the opportunities have been available. Reyes has shown his value as a table-setter. The best illustration was seen in the Nationals series highlighted in an inning in which Reyes stretched a single into a double after an outfield hesitation to throw the ball in, then advance to third base after timing a throw to first base by the third baseman, and finally scoring afterward. In addition to this core, after a scorching start to the season, Omar Infante has remained productive. And in support, Logan Morrison has had his share of productive at-bats despite occasional struggles. Finally, even with the continued downside of the remaining pieces, there is the expectation that everything will come together. Our bench has been strong in filling the voids left by the injury to Emilio Bonifacio and demotion of Gaby Sanchez. Once those two players return, we can expect Bonifacio to continue his onslaught on the bases and for Gaby to return to the quality hitter that he has been so far in his career. Then, there is the expectation that the struggling John Buck will balance out and hit better than his mid .100s batting average. Once the offense completely comes together, this lineup will be potent and potentially one of baseball’s best. It will also serve as a major reason that the Marlins can place themselves among the elite teams.
In closing, if everything comes together and the strong pitching staff and bullpen are supported by the lineup firing at its capabilities, this could put the Marlins over the top to being one of the best teams in the game. The possibility of Josh Johnson and the pitching staff; Bell and Oviedo leading the bullpen; and Reyes, Ramirez, Stanton and their supporting cast combining all together is certainly a sight that any Marlins fan would love to see. It is a possibility that certainly could equate to a regular season that places the Marlins in the postseason and certainly with a promising possibility and chance to win a third World Series title – the first as the Miami Marlins. Stay tuned for the remaining months and the promise of the fan satisfaction that may await with a rising Marlins team.