COMMENTARY – And so it begins. The 162-game march toward the playoffs starts on Monday for the Miami Marlins with their first game of the season against the Washington Nationals.
Right now, I feel like a kid at Christmas. The start of the Major League baseball season should be a national holiday. It’s also the first time every team is on even ground and everyone is considered a World Series contender. The Marlins are no different.
Well, maybe they are to some extent. This is a team that has fought adversity this offseason.
The potential sale of the team. Injuries that have both Jeff Locke and Martin Prado on the mend. Continuing news about the death of Jose Fernandez. Every time it looked like this organization would get up from a 10-count, it met another obstacle. The start of the season might be the most relaxing part of the offseason.
I know it sounds like an exaggeration, and it might be a bit of a stretch. There have been events this spring that could springboard this team to a winning record, the first in 14 seasons. The effort of both Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich in the World Baseball Classic is a start. Manager Don Mattingly’s belief in the system – letting the Grapefruit League act as a guided tour rather than worrying about wins and losses. Most of all, fans are excited baseball is back after its yearly hiatus.
And best of all, if the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series after 108 years, then every underdog team in baseball has a chance at greatness.
The Marlins did not break up the band in the offseason, staying true to their word of keeping the core of young, talented players together. Offseason moves brought in more pitching depth, but the lineup pretty much remains the same.
As Nicholas Ian Allen of fansided.com wrote, the Marlins were a playoff contender until the final weeks of the season last year. There is hope this season could be even better.
On Sept. 20, the Marlins were 76-75 and had yet to be mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. Jose Fernandez, the 24-year old ace and face of the franchise, outdueled Tanner Roark in a 1-0 victory over the Washington Nationals to push the club over .500 for the final time that year. Fernandez allowed just three hits and struck out 12 in eight sparkling innings in what would tragically be his last game.
On Sept. 26, the day after Fernandez’s death, Miami beat the New York Mets 7-3 to pull their record to 78-78. Dee Gordon’s leadoff home run – his only long ball of the season – provided one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking moments of the year. Miami then lost four of its final five contests.
If Miami can overcome the lingering effects of the loss of their ace, there is reason to believe Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen could all win 12-15 games. The bullpen is stronger, going eight deep. The team took the Cleveland Indians approach this season, adding depth to take the pressure off arms and place more emphasis on starters going at least six innings. It is great in theory – if it works than Miami is a team that should make the wildcard round and then, who knows.
While there is optimism everywhere, south Florida is ready. Baseball has a way of healing wounds that still remain from last season. Health is still a concern. Arms must be sharp and this team must produce more runs. Despite all the question marks, Major League baseball is back. Just like everyone else’s favorite team, the Marlins are going to the World Series. At least right now they are a contender. There are 162 games to determine if they can finally push though toward a winning season.