You could practically see the Miami Marlins beaming as they came into the 2015 season. It did indeed figure to be a good one after a winter of big moves and big talk, and they've kicked things off by going...
It's been bad, all right. In losing 7-3 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night, the Marlins have now lost five in a row and 11 of 14 overall. This puts them in a place that, while not totally unfamiliar for the franchise, is certainly the last place they expected to end up this year:
Dead last in the NL East.
Not even the troll-iest of skeptics could have seen a start like this coming. The Marlins were halfway respectable with a 77-85 record in 2014, and then they spent their offseason going all-in for 2015. They kicked things off by inking Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million extension, and then surrounded him with additions like Dee Gordon, Mat Latos, Martin Prado, Mike Morse and Dan Haren.
Virtually nobody actually picked the Marlins to win the NL East over the Washington Nationals, of course, but some very smart people saw them going far in the end. Jonah Keri and Michael Baumann of Grantland, for example, both pegged the Marlins to win the World Series.
But armed with the best outfield in baseball, upgrades at multiple positions, and the pending return of Jose Fernandez in June, Miami will have enough to secure a wild-card spot in the postseason dance…where anything can happen.
Let's take a wild guess and say the Marlins aren't going to live up to that until they fix what's ailing them. That will be no easy task, because what's ailing them can be summed up in one word: Everything.
The Marlins aren't hitting. Though they could be worse off from a runs scored standpoint, they're hitting just .244 with a .653 OPS as a team. As I'm writing this, FanGraphs has them tied for 21st in adjusted offense. They've been as productive as the Houston Astros, which is not a compliment.
The Marlins aren't pitching, either. Their 5.21 ERA currently stands as the worst in baseball, and that's been a roughly equal effort between the club's starters (5.30 ERA) and relievers (5.07 ERA). Even if you switch to Fielding Independent Pitching, Miami's pitching staff still checks in as a bottom-10 unit.
When you're not hitting or pitching, you're not going to win many ballgames. Evidently, you're also going to have a tough time getting along.
It was only a couple days ago Stanton told Joe Frisario of MLB.com that "the fire is not there" with this Marlins team. There's also a report out from Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald that second-year skipper Mike Redmond is already on the hot seat.
ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick notes club owner Jeffrey Loria declined to shoot that out of the sky:
So in no time at all, the Marlins have gone from a team with sky-high hopes to a team that can't do anything right and now seems on the verge of falling apart.
And it all just seems so familiar, doesn't it?
In times like these, it's hard not to recall the 2012 Marlins. Some minor differences aside, they were the 2015 Marlins before the 2015 Marlins were the 2015 Marlins.
That was the year when the Marlins dropped nearly $200 million on Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. Combined with incumbent stars like Stanton and Hanley Ramirez, a rebranding from the "Florida Marlins" to the "Miami Marlins" and a shiny new ballpark, the Marlins had all the trappings of a fun, exciting new team.
At least until things went south right off the bat.
Those Marlins went 8-14 in April to put themselves in last place in the NL East. And though they made a charge with a 20-8 showing in May, that momentum was quickly lost and the white flag was waved in July when Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante were traded.
The white flag stayed up. That winter, the Marlins pushed the abort button on Reyes, Buehrle and Bell. A once-promising campaign had given way to a full-on fire sale. And because this one followed a 93-loss season, it looked even worse than the post-championship Marlins fire sales of 1997 and 2003.
With the 2015 Marlins looking suspiciously reminiscent of the 2012 Marlins these days, you can't help but wonder: Might history repeat itself?
For now we can say it shouldn't come to that.
At the least, the Marlins should start to hit a lot more. Presently, Stanton and Gordon are the only above-average regulars the Marlins have in their lineup. That's going to change, as we know veterans like Morse and Prado and homegrown studs Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna can swing the bat. Once their bats heat up, the Marlins should have a run in them.
It's harder to have faith in Miami's pitching, however.
With Latos' stuff looking pancake-flat and Henderson Alvarez and Jose Fernandez on the disabled list, the Marlins don't have a single starter capable of overpowering hitters. There's also not a ton of depth in their bullpen, and the heavy workload (49.2 innings) it's handled early on could have a lasting impact.
If the Marlins' pitching doesn't recover, they're not going to recover. And if this is what comes to pass, nobody should be the least bit surprised if they go into fire sale mode again.
This one wouldn't be nearly as bad as the last one, which essentially involved the Marlins giving up on a roster that had a chance to be something. But free-agents-to-be like Latos and Haren could go. The Marlins could also dangle veterans on short-term contracts, like Morse, Prado and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
In fairness, such a fire sale would actually be the right idea. Those guys are making a bunch of money, and are not long-term building blocks. And with Miami's farm system largely empty following its trade-happy winter, trying to get some new building blocks while the getting's good would be in the club's interest.
Goodness knows it's too early to predict something like that will happen later this summer. Even when really bad baseball is concerned, two weeks of baseball does not a 162-game season make.
But while nobody needs to be pushing the panic button, it's not a smart idea to ignore the reality check the Marlins have gotten. Their cracks are showing, and not all of them are guaranteed to be fixed.
And at some point, it wouldn't be surprising if the Marlins once again deem to whole darn thing beyond saving.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted/linked.
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