Marlins sneaking up in race

By Matt Verderame

The Miami Marlins are somewhat the forgotten franchise of Major League Baseball. When one thinks of the sport, most don’t immediately go to the beaches of South Florida and think of the franchise with some insane nonsense beyond the outfield wall that lights up and moves after every home run by the home team.

Yet, the Marlins are hanging in the race of the National League East, sitting in third place and only three games behind the division-leading Washington Nationals. Miami has not gotten much publicity throughout the year, with most of it focused on the Nationals and New York Mets when the NL East gets talked about, but Miami has the horses both in the starting rotation and the lineup to play with the big boys.

The Marlins have two of the biggest stars in baseball with Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez dotting the roster. Stanton has been up to his old tricks, still hitting pitches harder than anybody in the game. The wunderkind is having a down year with his .220 batting average and only 14 home runs, but he looks to be on the uptick. Stanton racked over the weekend, helping Miami take three of four games at home from the Chicago Cubs.

Meanwhile, the rest of the lineup is rolling. Marcell Ozuna has finally blossomed into the player many thought he was when he first arrived on the scene, leading the team with a .320 average to go with 16 home runs and 44 RBI, also team highs. Martin Prado has been a nice veteran presence who also can still produce, hitting at a .312 clip. With Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto also hitting above .300, the Marlins have one of the toughest lineups from top to bottom in the game.

On the mound, Fernandez is the unquestioned ace of the staff. The youngster has fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery back in 2014, showcased by his 10 wins and 2.28 ERA, both figures that lead the squad. The Cuban also has a team-high 138 strikeouts and a minuscule 0.99 WHIP, making him one of the best pitchers in the game today.

The only real question for Miami is whether the rest of the rotation can step up and make the playoffs go from dream to reality. The Marlins need to get more from the trio of Adam Conley, Tom Koehler and Wei-Yen Chen who are currently posting 3.56, 4.07 and 5.00 ERAs respectively.

Miami has only made the playoffs twice in the history of the franchise – dating back to 1993 – and both times, won the World Series. Marlins fans should be hoping that this group can make it into the dance, because with Fernandez at the top of the rotation and Stanton in the middle of the order, anything is possible.