MIAMI -- Whether the Marlins contend in 2016 may simply come down to their ability to seal the deal. How they protect leads and close out games will help dictate the tone for the season.
It did last year, especially in the first six weeks, when the bullpen struggled to save games. Once it became an issue that couldn't be overlooked in mid-May, A.J. Ramos replaced Steve Cishek as closer, and he provided stability in the ninth inning.
Ramos, 29, is one of the more unheralded relievers in franchise history. With a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider, he's been incredibly steady in a variety of roles since 2012. The right-hander's 218 appearances are the ninth most in franchise history.
Last year, Ramos saved 32 of 38 opportunities, logged 70 1/3 innings and struck out 87. He averaged 11.13 strikeouts per nine innings, and his WHIP was 1.01. Most importantly for a closer, the moment was never too big for Ramos.
But as steady as he's been, Ramos heads into Spring Training -- which begins with the first workout for pitchers and catchers on Friday -- still having to lock down the closer's role. Carter Capps, one of the hardest throwers in the game, will have an opportunity to win the job.
The Marlins are comfortable having competition settle who should take the ball with the lead in the ninth inning, and the closer's job will be one of the most intensely watched battles at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. Whether it is Ramos or Capps, the Marlins are in an enviable spot, because whoever isn't closing will assume the setup role in the eighth.
Capps, 25, was dominant in 2015, posting a 1.16 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP. The right-hander struck out 58 batters in 31 innings. But the question with him is durability, plus the fact he's never had a save in the big leagues. Capps didn't pitch after Aug. 2 due to a right elbow strain. Entering Spring Training, he is healthy: Capps has already been throwing off the mound, and he is ready to go.
When healthy, Capps is lights-out. His average fastball last year, according to Statcast™, was 98.05 mph. The league average was 92.90 mph. Capps' perceived fastball from the hitter's vantage point is 101.73 mph. The league average was 92.54 mph.
Not many can match that overpowering velocity. Making Capps an even more uncomfortable at-bat is his unorthodox delivery, where he propels himself off the rubber toward the batter. There was an issue with the delivery early last season when Capps was pitching for Triple-A New Orleans. MLB reviewed and determined the pitch is legal as long as his back foot drags toward home and he isn't leaping upward.
Ramos doesn't possess the pure power with his fastball, which averaged 92.91 mph last year, according to Statcast™. The advantage Ramos has is experience, and a long history of dependability.
Whoever gets the nod to close when the season starts will do so with the understanding roles are subject to change. Ramos seized his opportunity last May. Capps currently is knocking on the door.
Pitchers and catchers report
First workout for pitchers and catchers
First full-squad workout
First Grapefruit League game
Away vs. Cardinals, March 3 at 1:05 p.m. ET
Home vs. Tigers, April 5 at 7:10 p.m. ET
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.