Fernandez's death casts pall on Marlins' season

Miami showed promise, staying in Wild Card contention into September

Fernandez's death casts pall on Marlins' season

MIAMI -- How they performed for four months, and where they were positioned in the standings through July, had many believing 2016 was finally going to be the year the Marlins returned to the postseason.

But the optimism began to fade in August, as injuries started mounting. The Marlins were then dealt a devastating blow in late September, when Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident. Fernandez's passing broke the collective hearts of everyone associated with the Marlins, the community and the baseball world.

Emotionally drained in the final week, the Marlins dropped four of their final six games and finished 79-82. The franchise still hasn't had a winning season since 2009 and hasn't been in the postseason since '03.

If there is anything to take away from how the season ended, it's how the team bonded together. The players were already a tightly knit group in manager Don Mattingly's first season in Miami, but they grew even closer by Fernandez's passing.

"Everyone knows how the season ended for us and the challenges that we faced heading into the offseason," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "We look at the group of men we've assembled in that clubhouse, and we're confident with the position-player core that we have."

Before looking forward to what is ahead, MLB.com takes a look back at the top storylines the Marlins had in 2016.

5. Struggles staying healthy

For the fourth time in five seasons, Giancarlo Stanton was unable to play in more than 125 games. A Grade 3 left groin strain suffered on Aug. 13 sidelined the slugger for weeks.

Initially ruled out for about six weeks, Stanton returned just three weeks later as a September callup, mainly appearing as a pinch-hitter before returning to the outfield in late September.

There's no disputing Stanton's impact when in the lineup. The three-time All-Star, despite batting .240/.326/.489, still belted 27 home runs.

Stanton flexed unprecedented power. His home run on Aug. 6 at Colorado was projected at 504 feet, the longest ever recorded by Statcast™. The 27-year-old also put on a show by winning the Home Run Derby during All-Star festivities in San Diego, setting a record with 61 homers in an unforgettable performance.

Stanton's 61 Derby homers

4. Yelich's untapped power

From the time Christian Yelich was a first-round pick in 2010, the Marlins believed he would eventually display power. It finally surfaced in 2016.

The 25-year-old left fielder established career highs for home runs (21) and RBIs (98). He hadn't previously had more than nine homers and 54 RBIs (both in 2014).

As the year progressed, so did Yelich's production. In 72 games after the All-Star break, he hit 14 home runs with 53 RBIs. The increase in power justified the decision to bat Yelich third, in front of Stanton.

Yelich's solo jack

3. Culture change

Mattingly, who managed the Dodgers from 2011-15, successfully changed the culture around the Marlins organization. Miami endured a turbulent 2015, highlighted by a midseason managerial change. By the time the season ended, players were questioning where the organization was headed.

Enter Mattingly, who brought a calming influence that the players bought into, and they showed promise by having four straight winning months. On July 31, the Marlins were nine games over .500, and they remained in Wild Card contention until mid-September.

2. Forever Young, Mr. 3000

Age indeed is just a number when you're talking about Ichiro Suzuki, who is no stranger to putting up gaudy statistics. The iconic Japanese outfielder reached one of MLB's most cherished milestones on Aug. 7 at Coors Field in Colorado. That day, Ichiro, then 42, collected his 3,000th MLB hit, a triple. The 10-time All-Star outfielder became just the 30th player in big league history to reach the benchmark.

Heading into 2016, many wondered if Ichiro would be able to reach 3,000. He was 65 hits short and had an uninspiring Spring Training that saw him hit .184 in 38 at-bats.

But when the games counted, Ichiro stepped up in his reserve role. He finished with 95 hits, giving him 3,030. On the season, Ichiro hit .291/.354/.376.

Ichiro's 3,000th hit

1. Tragedy strikes, grieving lingers

In his short but spectacular career, Fernandez repeatedly reminded us that he was playing a game. The joy he brought to the ballpark, along with his immense talents, made him one of baseball's brightest young stars.

Tragically, before his career could truly take off, Fernandez's life was taken in the boating accident on Sept. 25 off Miami Beach. The grieving continues in South Florida, but his legacy will live forever.

Prior to his death, Fernandez was winding down one of the greatest seasons in franchise history. An All-Star, he shattered the club's strikeout record with 253. Ryan Dempster previously held the mark with 209 in 2000.

The sky was the limit for Fernandez, who was on an innings limit around 180 in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old ace compiled 182 1/3 innings over 29 starts. Many believe his finest start ever came just five days before his death. On Sept. 20, Fernandez threw eight shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out 12, in a 1-0 win over the Nationals.

Fernandez's passing will forever cast a dark cloud over what could have been such a rewarding 2016 season in Miami.

Fernandez honored in Miami

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com 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.