AnalysisNL East

Are the Miami Marlins for Real?

When the Marlins won their 38th game of the season late last week, they cemented their best start to a season (38-31) since 1997. Back then, the writer of this article wasn’t born yet and they were known as the Florida Marlins. That 1997 team would eventually go on to win the World Series in exciting fashion as Édgar Rentería walked things off in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 to capture the Marlins’ first world championship in franchise history.

At the time, the Marlins were a five-year-old franchise and became the first wild card team to ever win the World Series — something they’d go on to do again six years later in 2003.

The last time Miami made the postseason was in the shortened 2020 season when Major League Baseball expanded the number of playoff teams to 16 — eight from each league. And the last time the franchise made the postseason in a full 162-game season was back in the previously mentioned 2003 season.

Through their first 72 games of 2023, Miami is second in the NL East and holds the first wild card spot in the NL.

With the NL’s playoff picture slowly starting to take shape, now feels like a good time to take a look at how the Marlins have gotten to where they’re at and whether or not they can be considered a legitimate playoff contender.

Record and Run Differential

At a quick glance, the Marlins’ 41-31 record with a minus-24 run differential makes it look like they are outperforming themselves by a lot — and they are. That run differential puts them at a Pythagorean win-loss record of 33-39, making them eight wins better than they “should be”. However, breaking down Miami’s run differential, along with their very good record in one-run games, a little further offers an explanation as to why they are 41-31 through 72 games.

In April, Miami went 15-12 with a minus-34 run differential. The month after that, they went 13-14 with a minus-10 run differential. So after outperforming their run differential in April, they came back to down earth in May. And so far in June, they’re 12-4 with a plus-21 run differential.

Going beyond those numbers, the Fish are an insane 18-5 in one-run games and nearly half of their wins (20 of 41) have been considered comebacks.

There has been a lot of luck involved when it comes to Miami’s early-season success, but over their last 33 games, the Marlins have been one of the best teams in baseball.

Since May 13

No team in the big leagues has won more games (22) since May 13 than the Marlins — the Diamondbacks and Giants also have 22 since then. Miami has allowed the fourth-fewest runs (123) and has scored the ninth-most runs (156) in baseball going back to May 13 — good for a plus-33 run differential. And their success hasn’t been because of some of the club’s more familiar names.

Sandy Alcantara, who won the NL’s Cy Young last year, and Jésus Luzardo were expected to lead Miami’s starting rotation this year which is 12th in the majors with a 4.24 ERA. But neither of them has performed all that well so far.

Alcantara’s 4.97 ERA on the year is alarming, while his 5.40 ERA since the 13th of May is worse. As for Luzardo, the lefty started the year strong with a 3.38 ERA across his first eight starts, but thanks to three rough outings in his last seven — he has a 4.93 ERA in that stretch — his season ERA currently sits at 4.09.

The two arms that have been carrying the club’s starting staff since May 13 are 25-year-old Braxton Garrett and standout righty Eury Pérez — who came into the year as Baseball America’s seventh-ranked prospect in all of baseball.

Garrett, who made 17 starts last season with the Marlins to the tune of a 3.58 ERA and 3.56 FIP, has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since May 13. The southpaw has made seven starts over the last five-plus weeks and has the eighth-best ERA (2.13) among qualified starting pitchers while having the lowest FIP (2.43) and sixth-highest strikeouts per nine innings pitched (11.61) in that same stretch. The 20-year-old Pérez made his big league debut on May 12 and in his seven starts has a 1.80 ERA in 35 innings pitched.

As a rotation, the Marlins have the sixth-lowest ERA (3.73) in the sport dating back to May 13, while the bullpen — headlined by left-handers Tanner Scott, Andrew Nardi, Steven Okert, and A.J. Puk — has the eighth-lowest ERA (3.35) by a group of relievers in that same period.

On offense, Miami has been without their most exciting player in Jazz Chisholm Jr. for a month now as the 25-year-old has been on the injured list since May 16 with turf toe. And even though Chisholm is one of the more exciting players to watch when healthy, he was not that this season as he posted a 90 wRC+ before going on the shelf.

Another recognizable name on the team’s big league roster is Jean Segura, but he has been struggling heavily in 2023 with a 40 wRC+ and was just placed on the 10-day injured list with a hamstring injury this past weekend.

With those two players out and underperforming, there have been three names leading the charge for the Marlins lineup since May 13 — Bryan De La Cruz, Luis Arraez, and Jorge Soler.

De La Cruz is hitting .281/.349/.484 over his last 146 plate appearances with eight doubles, six home runs, and a 127 wRC+. Arraez, who is putting together an impressive season, is slashing .390/.437/.488 since May 13 with a 155 wRC+. And while those two have been very good since mid-May, Soler has been the club’s, along with one of baseball’s, better hitters.

Among qualified players since May 13, Soler’s 24 walks are fourth-most, while his 11 home runs are tied for third-most, 1.036 OPS is sixth-highest, and 180 wRC+ is fifth-best. On top of that, the 31-year-old’s 2.10 win probability added during that stretch is second in the majors. Altogether, Soler is slashing .288/.423/.613 over the last five-plus weeks.

Outside of those three, there have been some other hitters providing above-league-average offense to the lineup. Joey Wendle (113 wRC+), Jesús Sánchez (109 wRC+), Yuli Gurriel (109 wRC+), and Nick Fortes (107 wRC+) have all contributed, but in smaller sample sizes as they all have less than 100 plate appearances going back to May 13.

Can They Make The Playoffs?

Obviously, the answer to this question is yes. It’s only June and no team has been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet.

But it is a good question to ask since the Marlins have been a team that, to this point in the year, has been getting somewhat lucky and can be classified as a bit of an overachiever at times.

Now, despite all that, they are where they are in the standings, and being the second-best team in their division, along with holding the first wild card spot in the NL, is a solid position to be in.

The club’s performance over the last 33 games could be a sign that they’re starting to put it all together and could possibly sustain that same level of success over their next 90 games — especially if they could get better performances from some of their underperforming players.

If Alcantara can turn his season around and Luzardo can get back on track, having those two, along with Garrett and Pérez, would form a really strong rotation down the stretch. And with the bullpen having more than just a few capable arms at the moment, the Fish could have one of the stronger pitching staffs in the NL in a year where teams have been struggling to find enough pitching.

Offensively, it seems that Chisholm will be back at some point. If he can get back to his 2022 form, and players like Sánchez, De La Cruz, Arraez, and Soler continue to hit, Miami’s offense could be the best they’ve had in a long time.

On the other side of things, a strong 33-game stretch from the middle of May through the middle of June isn’t all that big of a deal. It could be an outlier for the Marlins, or even a case of peaking way too early.

It’s not crazy to think Alcantara doesn’t get going and Luzardo is just okay for the next three-and-a-half months of the season. What if Garrett’s dominance doesn’t continue, either? And with Pérez being so young, he’s probably going to be on some type of innings limit this season.

Also, just because a bullpen is pitching well, doesn’t mean injuries can’t happen and test a club’s depth. Having all of that happen at the same time would be a disaster-like situation, but it is a possibility. Even one or two of those scenarios playing out could seriously compromise the Marlins pitching staff as a whole.

And if Chisholm comes back and doesn’t hit, while some combination of Sánchez, De La Cruz, Arraez, and Soler cool off for a considerable stretch, the Marlins don’t have other players that seem likely to step up at the plate to help carry the load for a month or so.

On top of all of that, there have been a number of underperforming NL teams with star-studded rosters — the Mets, Padres, Cardinals, and Phillies — that could go on a crazy run this summer and blow right past the Marlins in the divisional or wild card standings.

Again, Miami is in a good position right now, and if they can continue to outscore their opponents while winning games at their current pace, the playoffs should be within reach. But, as is the case with most teams right now, they still have a lot to prove with plenty of baseball left as the season is just now reaching its halfway point.

NOTE: All statistics in the article are accurate before play on Monday, June 19, 2023.

Featured Photo: Twitter / @Marlins

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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