It’s June 19, and the 36-35 Miami Marlins are simply a game and a half behind from the NL East leading Washington Nationals. A year ago, the Marlins were 22-48 without an inch of hope. In 2012, they were 33-34 on their way to franchise-changing (again) disappointing season that set up both last year and this year.
The veteran imports have done their job so far in terms of improving the lineup. The Marlins are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for ninth in baseball in team batting average (.258) and the eighth highest run total in baseball (318) and sixth highest RBI total in baseball (304). Essentially with the help of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones, Rafael Furcal, Casey McGehee and Reed Johnson, the Marlins have just as good of a lineup as Magic Johnson’s Dodgers.
The loss of pitching phoenix Jose Fernandez has hindered the Marlins pitching. Their 4.25 team ERA in May (the month of the Fernandez injury) was dead last in the National League and overall they’re smack dab in the middle of the pack (15th in MLB) with a 3.86 team ERA.
But they plan to fix that by ratcheting up their youth movement and promote their two of their top pitching prospects in Andrew Heaney and Anthony DeSclafani. DeSclafani already has three Major League starts to his name and is 1-1 with a 5.60 ERA.
When he’s good, DeSclafani has the ability to be a strikeout pitcher. He struck out seven Dodgers in six innings in his Major League debut and struck out five Chicago Cubs in 6.1 innings in his first start back. As a rookie, DeSclafani may turn out to be similar to fellow rookie starter Jake Odorizzi of the Tampa Bay Rays. He may have trouble minimizing runs but he can strike them out.
Like Odorizzi, DeSclafani may benefit from the assurance of staying with the Marlins starting rotation and not have to go out there thinking every start may be his last.
“You don’t have to worry about what tomorrow’s going to bring,” Odorizzi said. “You get more comfortable. You become more familiar with everything rather than asking people what to do. You know now what you need to do to prepare yourself for the next start, and there’s going to be a next start.”
Heaney was the Marlins’ first-round selection (No. 9 overall) in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, and just two years later, he is making his Major League debut against the New York Mets.
“I did envision [making the big leagues],” Heaney said. “I also didn’t set a go to be here in a certain time. Obviously my goal is to be here and now I’m here, I plan to stay here.”
He entered the season as the Marlins' top prospect and the top lefty prospect in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com. He went 4-2 with a 2.35 ERA and 52 strikeouts in eight Double-A starts and one relief appearance. He was promoted to Triple-A New Orleans but after going 3-0 with a 2.74 ERA in just four starts, Marlins manager Mike Redmond realized it was time to bring him up.
"When you get to Triple-A and you have success there, that's a pretty good indicator of where you're at," Redmond said. "I only got a short glimpse of him in Spring Training, but you can tell that he's special."
Heaney comes in with a good mindset and understands that he is the one who dictates the game and as long as he can attack the inside part of the strike zone with his fastball and throw them off with his changeup while minimizing walks, he’ll be on top of the game every time.
Heaney also understands that he is not there to replace Jose Fernandez. That’s Henderson Alvarez’s job. Even though Nathan Eovaldi is on top of the depth chart, but with a 2.56 ERA and three complete game shutouts to follow up on his no-hitter to close out the 2013 season, Alvarez is the Marlins’ true ace.
“It’s attributed to his sinker,” Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis said. That’s why we are able to go so far into games because he’s able to throw it for strikes to both sides of the plate. Guys are putting it in play and are getting ground balls and double plays in big situations.”
Alvarez said that the key difference between his time in Toronto and his current stint with the Marlins is his ability to prevent the long ball. He gave up 29 home runs in 2012 with the Blue Jays and since being acquired by the Marlins, he has given up a total of six home runs.
Finally the Marlins are relying on their No. 3 prospect Jake Marisnick to provide them with something they’ve lacked to have this season, a true leadoff hitter. Standing tall at 6-4 and 225 pounds, Marisnick relies on standing tall and letting natural ability take over on the base path. He’s one of the fastest players in the organization and he wasted little time proving his worth.
The 23-year-old swiped two bases in his first game with Miami and is currently five for 14 (.357). He stole 17 bases in Triple-A.
"Jake is an exciting player," manager Mike Redmond said. "He brings a lot. He brings that speed weapon, which is nice. It's something we don't really have a ton of. I think he showed that when he gets on, he's not scared. He's aggressive. He's going to try to steal bases and get himself in scoring position."
The Marlins enter Thursday with the second lowest stolen base total in baseball with 24. Injured left fielder Christian Yelich has 10 of those stolen bases so even with the small sample size Marisnick is doing a fine job filling in for his best friend.
That’s actually the best part of Marisnick joining the Marlins. He gets to be reunited with his Yelich who is on the 15-day DL with a lower-back strain. There are pictures of the two side by side that suggest a bromance between the two.
“A lot of guys asked where I would be staying,” Marisnick said. [Yelich] has a one-bedroom apartment. So they were asking if I was staying with him.”
For Marisnick to be on a hot start is not a surprise. He hit .432 in Spring Training but was sent down in favor of Marcell Ozuna who hit .177 in Spring Training.
That move paid off, as Ozuna is among the top five National League outfielders in RBI with 42. But the move devastated Marisnick and he suffered and struggled in the minors early in the season.
“I ended up putting too much pressure and I struggled,” Marisnick said “Then finally when I stepped back and said, ‘just relax and have fun’, that’s when things started clicking.”
With all hands on deck , the Marlins are primed to make a run a work to take the NL East title for the first time in franchise history.