It was one thing when the Miami Marlins were winning in April and May. They were a nice little story, nothing more.
They seemed to be headed in the right direction, and after all that had happened the last two seasons, that was enough to make this a successful season.
Only thing is, the Marlins didn't go away. They've kept winning. They've kept growing, too. They've been fun to watch and easy to root for.
Since the All-Star break, Miami has won 18 games, tied for tops among all National League clubs.
If the Marlins' 62-62 record doesn't sound like anything special, it's 14 games better than they were at this point last season.
And the playoffs?
After 124 games, this team plenty of us thought was going no place is a mere 3 1/2 games out in the race for the second NL Wild Card berth.
That's the amazing part of this story. They didn't go away in June, and it doesn't appear they're going away in August, either.
As much as we've focused on the Nationals and Braves, as much as we wanted to see if the Phillies had one last run in them, the Marlins have kept going.
They've shown toughness and resilience in leading the Majors with 20 victories in their final at-bat. They're 31-18 in one-run games, also tops in the Majors.
Since the All-Star break, Miami is 10-2 in one-run games, and when a team keeps surviving close, tough games, when it continues to show resolve and fight and all those things, confidence grows inside the clubhouse.
As we head for the stretch run with 18 teams within five games of a playoff berth, it's OK to focus on the Pirates and Braves and teams that have been where the Marlins are trying to go.
But it would be a huge mistake to sleep on Miami. As manager Mike Redmond tells his players, "You just have to keep finding a way."
That's the most basic thing the Marlins have done. Their numbers don't knock your socks off. Their staff ERA is the NL's fourth-best since the All-Star break, but 10 NL teams have scored more runs.
Miami has had to shuffle its roster again and again in a search for answers. The club has used 25 pitchers in all, including 13 starters.
The Marlins are a reminder that teams that rely on kids simply don't know how good they're going to be.
Even when Miami lost its ace, Jose Fernandez, who underwent Tommy John surgery, the club found answers.
What once seemed so farfetched is now clearly possible. And that's a dangerous thing for every other NL team contending for a postseason berth.
The Marlins believe now. That is, they believe in a way they almost certainly couldn't have before.
This playoff dream, this crazy thing that only they believed, this possibility of going from 100 losses one season to a postseason berth, it's close enough to see and feel and touch and taste.
They've got everything you want a contending team to have. They have a nice blend of experience and youth.
Even if the Marlins simply were throwing all those talented kids on the field and allowing them to grow and learn, to succeed and fail, that would make this season interesting.
In outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna and starting pitchers Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi, they've got four young stars who are all 24 years old or under. Their shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria, is 25.
They have a tremendous manager, a smart, competitive guy, a guy who has never lost faith that this team could write whatever ending it chooses to write.
We're starting to believe you, Mike Redmond.
And Miami has 24-year-old Giancarlo Stanton, one of the best players on earth. If the season ended today, he'd almost certainly win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Stanton leads the NL in both home runs (32) and RBIs (88), and he appears to be headed toward a 40-homer, 100-RBI season.
All those young guys provide the Marlins were more than just talent, although their talent is impressive.
They provide energy and a belief that they're going to write the ending they choose to write. Again, don't sleep on this dynamic.
General manager Dan Jennings, who was promoted to the job by team owner Jeffrey Loria after last season, did something absolutely brilliant in constructing his roster. He surrounded those kids with proven veterans like catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones, third baseman Casey McGehee and utility man Jeff Baker.
Those older guys helped the kids maintain a level of consistency during the grind of a long season.
Anyway, it doesn't matter what the Marlins were in April or May. Today, Eovaldi, Alvarez and Tom Koehler give them a front three that can compete with almost any in baseball.
And with Stanton in the middle of the lineup, with Redmond building his lineups in front of and behind him, the Marlins have shown no signs of fading.
Their schedule still has road games against the Angels, Braves, Brewers and Nationals. But the Marlins are unlikely to blink over that kind of challenge. They've come too far for that.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less