Can the Marlins reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and have a winning record for the first time since 2009?

The Marlins will need an injury-free season from Giancarlo Stanton and better hitting to improve in 2017

The Marlins had the best story of 2016 when Ichiro Suzuki hit a triple to reach 3,000 hits for his Major League career. The outfielder played more games than expected and still delivered in usual fashion – as a catalyst for an offense that did not always come through.

The Marlins also had the worst story of 2016 when it was learned Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident. The loss not only meant the team lost its ace, it meant the game lost one of the best pitchers today. Finding a replacement for his power, his leadership and his friendship will never happen.

Still, there is plenty of optimism for this team in 2017.

Miami will need to play better in the coming season, find more consistency on the base pads and within the pitching staff. But the team will also have to work with a thin farm system and a roster that won’t be tweaked much offensively. In other words, manager Don Mattingly must work with the deck he is handed. If Miami is going to contend for the playoffs this season, these three things must happen throughout the coming year.

A Healthy Giancarlo Stanton – There may not be a bigger desire for the Marlins lineup than the health of outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. The major power source of this team has been plagued with injuries for the past few seasons, which has hampered his production. It was also one of the reasons the Marlins fell out of the playoff race last season. There has been talk this offseason that Stanton will change outfield positions with Marcell Ozuna, with Stanton moving to left field and Ozuna jumping over to right. Christian Yelich will remain in center field. If Stanton can remain healthy and return with power numbers that make pitchers shake, this lineup could be one of the more potent in the majors.

A late season surge – The Marlins were in the playoff race until the last week of the season, but heartbreak and fatigue gave way to progress. The Marlins competed for a wild card race for the majority of the second half of the season. What if the Marlins were able to peak at the right time? What if hitting got better and the team was able to draw more walks instead of stranding baserunners? One of manager Don Mattingly’s goals is to produce more walks, which means more baserunners. The return of Dee Gordon for a full season will also help the team move baserunners over. Miami has a chance once again to be one of the better hitting teams in baseball.

Another Ace in the Hole – The devastation of Jose Fernandez’s death was the major story of the year for the Marlins. But before the sadness, there was grief with a pitching staff that was lacking a true fifth starter and could not keep its rotation healthy. Fernandez won 16 games and struck out 253 batters. Those number must be replaced. Edinson Volquez and Jeff Locke would “replace” Fernandez. They could be solid starters who could pitch six innings per contest. The bullpen will be solid if all the new parts fit properly. Look for Wei Yin-Chen and Adam Conley to be asked to pitch more innings. Conley should take a step forward this coming season and could become a workhorse with the right guidance. If the Marlins get double-digit wins from three pitchers – with Tom Koehler added to the rotation – pitching coach Juan Nieves may be the team’s MVP.

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