Marlins reel off 5 straight victories, shake off sluggish start to season
By Mike Bauman
MIAMI -- It is safe to say that the crisis has passed for the Miami Marlins. In fact, it has already become somewhat difficult to remember why there was a crisis. Oh, right. The Fish started the season 3-11.
But now, the Marlins have won five straight. And in the past week, Miami has demonstrated how good it can be. This is a team with a dynamic, versatile offense. It can be argued without stretching a point that this is the deepest lineup the Marlins have had since their 2003 World Series championship.
The difficulties of the first two weeks are in the Marlins' rearview mirror and fading.
"I've never once panicked or wavered from our lineup and our guys," Miami manager Mike Redmond said Sunday after his club completed a sweep of Washington with a 6-2 victory. "I knew we'd hit. It was just a matter of when. These guys, I believe in them, they believe in themselves. And I think you've been able to see what these guys can do over the last five games.
"This game's all about confidence. It's so tough; people don't even realize how hard it is. There are so many things that you go through, not just over the course of a season, but in a given day. These guys are a resilient group. They're a fun group. They like to have fun. When we play relaxed and loose and confident, then we're as good as anybody. And I think you've been able to see that over the last five games."
Bad stretches can occur, even to the best of teams. Look at what is happening to the Nationals, a popular pick to win everything up to a Nobel Prize. They are 7-12.
Of course, one of the reasons that the Nats are 7-12 is that they were just swept in a three-game series by the Marlins. OK, Miami, even with a five-game winning streak, is still short of .500. But it's early. And the team's upward direction is unmistakable.
There is not a hole in the Marlins' lineup, even when they are not at full strength. The outfield -- Giancarlo Stanton in right, Marcell Ozuna in center and Christian Yelich in left -- has the potential to become one of the best in baseball.
Yelich is on the disabled list now with a lower back problem, but there is no crisis here because Miami can plug in the venerable Ichiro Suzuki, who is 41 but still has plenty of game.
Ichiro reminded everyone of his historical greatness Saturday, when he scored the 1,968th run of his exceptional career. That surpassed the legendary Sadaharu Oh for the most runs scored by a Japanese player.
After an 8-0 victory on Saturday, the Marlins' offense remained in gear for the series finale. They had their offense going against Washington's Gio Gonzalez, a South Florida native who had been tough on his hometown team. In the past two seasons, Gonzalez was 5-0 with a 1.13 ERA against the Fish.
But this is a better club than the past two Miami teams. The young talent is maturing, the Marlins have added players who can have major impacts at first (Michael Morse), second (Dee Gordon) and third (Martin Prado). This lineup tagged Gonzalez for six earned runs on 10 hits in five-plus innings on the way to the series sweep.
The depth of Miami's lineup was underscored by the fact that the biggest hit of the day came from the No. 8 hitter, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. After the Nationals botched a rundown of Stanton between home and third in the fourth inning, Hechavarria delivered a bases-loaded triple, giving the Marlins a 3-1 lead. Hechavarria made major strides as a hitter last season, and he appears to be making more now.
"Getting production from the eighth spot, it really stretches out your lineup," said Dan Haren, Sunday's starter.
Haren battled through his start, giving up two runs over five innings. It may be that adequacy may be all that is required from Miami's starting pitcher this season.
The Marlins can justifiably hope for better pitching as the season goes on. Starter Henderson Alvarez, out with shoulder inflammation, is expected back in May. The genuine ace of the staff, Jose Fernandez, is expected back from Tommy John surgery in midseason.
The long-term outlook is very positive for what is still a young team. But the outlook for 2015 should also be positive. One way or the other, the outlook is substantially better than it was five games ago.
"Obviously, we didn't get off to a great start this season, but it's not how you start, it's how you finish," Hechavarria said through an interpreter. "We've been playing better, and we've got to maintain that and keep going forward."
The Marlins, much better late than never, are demonstrating that they have the ability and the will to do exactly that.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.