Marlins showing they're more than a team in waiting
Miami trailed first-place Nats by 3 1/2 games heading into play Friday
By Hal Bodley
ST. PETERSBURG -- With a little more than a quarter of the season behind them, the Marlins have essentially been treading water in the National League East's four-team logjam.
As we head into Memorial Day weekend, the Nationals and the defending-champion Mets have been the class of the division, the surprising Phillies have been playing over their heads and the Marlins seem to be a team in waiting.
"We're not in waiting; we're in the mix," owner Jeffrey Loria said. "We've got to get people healthy."
Considering the negatives that have slowed the Marlins this season, that they're in fourth place, just 3 1/2 games behind first-place Washington entering play Friday, is encouraging.
Miami will spend the weekend in Atlanta against the Braves, who aren't in the mix, having won just 12 of their 46 games. The jury is out on the Phils and whether they can continue their amazing pace or if they'll drop back as the season progresses.
In comparison to the Nats and Mets, the Marlins fall short, but I believe this is a team, when at full strength, that has the ability to remain close. A postseason berth is not impossible.
Thus, a "team in waiting."
Miami begins the weekend having won three of four games against Tampa Bay in the Citrus Series, with Thursday's 9-1 rout at Tropicana Field the most decisive.
That victory and Wednesday's created an air of confidence in the clubhouse, because the Marlins' offense was without Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. Despite the absence of this duo, Miami's 15 hits were the most since it had 16 against the Brewers on May 1.
In the two games, the Marlins totaled 13 runs and 28 hits, and they did it with the makeshift lineup.
Stanton, who's fifth in the NL with 12 homers, was out the past two games because of soreness in his right side. Yelich, who's batting .320 and may someday win a batting title, missed his sixth straight game because of back spasms.
The Interleague games vs. Tampa Bay helped build the momentum that the Marlins had sorely lacked.
"Any time you can get the bats alive, especially in a series like that [against the pitching-rich Rays], hopefully you can take that momentum to the next series," said Cole Gillespie, who drove in two runs on Thursday with a double and a single filling in for Stanton. "We've been able to get guys on base and come through with the hits in situations where we needed them."
When Loria was searching for a new manager after last season, his priority was to find someone who could handle the blend of youngsters and veterans on the roster. Also, someone who could immediately gain the respect of his players and improve the overall clubhouse culture.
Don Mattingly was the perfect fit. The former AL batting champion and Yankees All-Star had won three straight NL West titles, but none of his Dodgers teams made the World Series.
Mattingly is calm but consistent in his approach to managing, and that has shown during his short reign in Miami. He's refused to let even a hint of panic exist during some dark days of the season, like on April 29, when Dee Gordon, reigning NL batting champion and an All-Star second baseman, was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Mattingly, who managed Gordon when both were with the Dodgers, said at the time: "I feel like he's one of my kids, to be honest with you. I've known him so long. We're going to love him and we're going to move forward."
And that's what the Marlins are trying to do.
"This is a good environment to be in," Mattingly said. "This is a good, young team. It has been through a lot. I look at it as a young team, but an experienced team. Yelich is only 24, Stanton is 26 and already has had his free-agency year, Marcell Ozuna is 25, Jose Fernandez is 23 --- they've been here awhile.
"They're into their second, third and fourth seasons at a young age. So, we have a group that's been through a lot. This is a team that wants to be good, and for a manager it's a great experience, because it's a group you can help get where they want to go. You're still teaching and developing. That's what it's all about."
"Mattingly's thought from the beginning was to make the most out of his players and their talents. That they can play multiple positions only helps when the needs arise. He's done a terrific job," said Loria.
Although hiring Barry Bonds as hitting coach was a controversial move, the results have been excellent. Run production is up, and Miami has four regulars -- Yelich, J.T. Realmuto, Martin Prado and Ozuna -- hitting over .300.
Although the Marlins have held their own, splitting 16 games against the Nationals and Mets, they've lost all three games to the Braves and are 2-4 against the rebuilding Phillies.
"No matter what lineup we throw out there, no matter who's pitching, no matter who we're facing, we have to try and find a way to put wins on the board every day, and we're capable of doing that," said Mattingly.
The weekend at Turner Field will be all about keeping the momentum and proving they're truly not a "team in waiting."
Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.