The M*A*S*H* Marlins

Waking up on August 16, 2016, and checking the standings, you find that the Miami Marlins are tied with St. Louis for the second wild card in the NL.

That’s surprising enough to many baseball fans, but what’s even more surprising is what they’ve had to deal with on the injury front.

This past weekend, everyone (well, OK, everyone not eyes deep in the Olympics) heard that Giancarlo Stanton was done for the year with a groin strain. Stanton was having a good, but not spectacular season, but his absence can only hurt the team.

It’s not just Stanton that that Marlins are missing right now.

First baseman Justin Bour was having an excellent season, improving over his rookie year. He had better plate discipline to go with his power, but an ankle injury has caused him to miss over a month, and his return has been delayed further.

Two regular members of their rotation (Adam Conley and Wei-Yin Chen) are also on the DL. Conley has a finger injury, and Chen has elbow issues and may miss the rest of the season. Also, AJ Ramos, their closer, broke a finger and is also out for a time.

That’s five players the Marlins have been counting on all season; five players that have helped them get into contention, all on the DL.

That’s not to mention all of the time Dee Gordon missed due to his PED pecadilloes.

Somehow, they’ve survived. However, if one looks closely, that may not have been a surprise.

Don Mattingly has come over and done a great job in getting the most out of who he has available. Young, talented players like Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and JT Realumto are thriving. They’re not household names, but almost every major league team would take them in their everyday lineup.

Derek Dietrich has filled in for Gordon with aplomb, getting on base at a .376 clip thanks to 22 hit-by-pitches. Martin Prado has solidified third base and his hitting .324. Let’s not forget Ichiro, whose average is the highest its been since 2010. Last year, everyone wondered if he was done. He was not done.

The magic, though, has been in building a pitching staff that has survived, and thrived.

Pitching coach Juan Nieves, bullpen coach Reid Cornelius and VP of pitching development Jim Benedict have done an outstanding job in identifying pitchers and keeping them on track all season.

Phenom Jose Fernandez is lights out, again. He seemingly has no long-term effects from his earlier injuries that kept him out of most of the past two years. That’s great for the Marlins and for baseball.

The rest of the rotation has been good enough to keep them in games. Tom Koehler’s an innings eating journeyman that every team needs at the bottom of the staff. Conley was pitching fairly well before his injury, and its hoped he can return. Andrew Cashner’s disappointed thus far, but it’s only been three starts. Miami has moved David Phelps into the rotation to help out, and he’s responded quite well thus far.

The magic has been in the bullpen – a collection of whozywhats and whatshisnames that are having great years.

Ramos had blown just two saves in thirty four attempts. Phelps, Kyle Barraclough, Dustin McGowan and Nick Wittgren were ably backing him up, and the four of them had allowed just eight of their 61 inherited runners to score. Those four were throwing strikes with regularity, with Barraclough adding a nasty slider in whiffing 88 batters in 54 innings.

The pitching magic has extended to recent call-up Brian Ellington. In two separate stints with Miami, he’s allowed just 10 hits and one earned run in 17 innings. Only control issues have kept him from being totally dominant in his short time up in the bigs this year.

At this writing, Miami had used 29 pitchers this year to fill in gaps. They tried vets like Craig Breslow and Edwin Jackson, but the no-name bullpen corps seems to have stabilized the team.

Right now, the Fish are using Fernando Rodney as the one-inning wonder in place of Ramos, and that’s the one area of concern since Rodney seems to be reverting back to his Mariners days.

Still, the Marlins pitching braintrust has done great things with the staff, and Mattingly has deftly kept his players optimistic and positive despite the long DL list and the loss of important players like Stanton and Bour. No matter the outcome, thus far Miami is a great, hidden story of the 2016 baseball year.

 

 

 

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