Strong first half has Marlins optimistic

With four All-Stars, Miami sits tied for second in NL East at break

Strong first half has Marlins optimistic

MIAMI -- Sending four players to the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard is a pretty good indication that a team had a successful first half. Jose Fernandez, Marcell Ozuna, A.J. Ramos and Fernando Rodney each represented the organization at Tuesday's Midsummer Classic at Petco Park in San Diego.

It's been a long time coming, but the Marlins finally enter the break with plenty to be pleased about. First-year manager Don Mattingly has the club at 47-41, tied with the Mets for second place in the National League East, and Miami is poised to make a postseason push.

"This is a good team," said president of baseball operations Michael Hill. "This is a playoff team. What is encouraging is we still aren't playing our best baseball. I think there are a lot of great stories in the first half, as highlighted by our four All-Stars, but we still aren't playing our best baseball."

For the most part, the club stayed healthy, which was a major concern entering the season, and the young core is coming of age. Fernandez anchored the rotation. Ramos and David Phelps secured the back end of the bullpen, and Ozuna carried the offense when others faltered. Martin Prado provided leadership and J.T. Realmuto has emerged as a upper-tier catcher. Ichiro Suzuki has energized the team with his quest for 3,000 hits.

The biggest kick in the gut was losing All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon to an 80-game suspension for PEDs. The 2015 NL batting champion was also a Gold Glove Award winner, and he's a proven leadoff hitter. The team has held steady without Gordon, but his presence is missed. Giancarlo Stanton had his struggles, yet he still reached 20 homers by the break and won the T-Mobile Home Run Derby with a record-setting performance on Monday.

Stanton sets HR Derby record

Mattingly and his staff have the club believing it can compete with anybody. The everyday lineup has performed, and it's strong up the middle with Realmuto, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Derek Dietrich and Ozuna in center. Christian Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton are again among the best outfield trios in the NL. The back end of the bullpen is steady. If the rotation steps up, the postseason is achievable.

Last year, Ozuna was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans. Today he is an All-Star, and he was named to the starting lineup. When Stanton slumped, Ozuna came through. In the offseason, Ozuna worked with Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano in the Dominican Republic, and he's bought in to Barry Bonds' instruction.

Ozuna's four-hit game

Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Fernandez is once again an NL All-Star and an NL Cy Young Award candidate. The right-hander is having his innings monitored, with the goal to have him around 180 total. Fernandez's fastball velocity has impressed, and his slider is among the nastiest in the game.

Fernandez fans eight in win

Entering Spring Training, some in the organization believed Nick Wittgren had a strong chance to make the Opening Day roster. It didn't happen, because he started off at Triple-A. Since being called up, the right-hander has filled a valuable multi-innings relief role. Wittgren is gaining confidence and he projects a future setup reliever.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for since 2002. 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.