#2- Miami Marlins – 2014: 77-85, 4th in the National League East
While the Mets are a sleeper team that has a lot of question marks about whether they’re legitimate, the Marlins question marks are more about whether they’re ready to take the leap this year. With a talented young core of players, Miami has the look of a perennial playoff team, with a superstar in Stanton, and rising stars in Yelich and Ozuna, and a nasty pitching staff that will only get nastier when Jose Fernandez makes his return during the summer, the buzz is in place. But are the Marlins ready?
How it can go right: The young Marlins lost Fernandez to Tommy John surgery in May of last season, lost Stanton to facial injuries sustained when he was hit by a pitch in September, and had holes at first and second, yet were still in the playoff race well into late August.
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Fernandez is coming back, Stanton is back to being the God of Thunder, and the additions of Gordon and Morse shore up the two question marks in the infield, while bringing in a serviceable third baseman in Prado that will help replace the over-achieving Casey Mcgehee. Yelich and Ozuna are primed to take the next step in their development, and the staff has enough bullets in the chamber to hold things down until Fernandez returns. What’s not to love?
How it can go wrong: Well, there’s a chance some of those things don’t happen as fast as hoped. While Fernandez is slated to coming back around June or July, what the staff looks like by then is a question. Latos is trying to bounce back from various injuries and hasn’t looked sharp this spring. What exactly can Haren bring to the table, considering there’s still a chance he doesn’t want to be in Miami? Is Cosart over the gambling controversy that arose in March?
As for the offense, the Marlins need to get more from the bottom of the lineup, as Hechavarria is more known for his glove, while John Buck Saltalamachhia hasn’t lived up to the contract he signed before last season. Gordon needs to shake off an awful second half of 2014, as the All-Star saw his OPS drop nearly 100 points after the break, while only getting on base at a .300 clip; not good for a leadoff hitter. Most importantly, as Yelich/Ozuna ready to make the jump? If not, this season might not end well.
First month (or so) of games: Atlanta (3), Tampa Bay (3), @Atlanta (3), @Mets (4), @Phillies (3), Washington (3), Mets (3)
That’s an interesting start. Winnable games at home in the first week, but 10 games on the road to follow. However the Braves/Mets/Phillies stretch isn’t exactly a gauntlet, so 6-4 or 7-3 on that trip isn’t out of the question. That first showdown with the Nationals could be fun.
Win/Loss Predication: 83-79. Even with all the hope and promise, there’s still some growing pains that the Marlins have to go through. There’s no question that the talent is there, just the timing might not be right. A healthy Fernandez will help a ton, but Latos needs to bounce back to help keep things afloat. The new offense needs to generate production to help offset any issues from the pitching staff, and that starts at the top with Gordon. But make no question, this season will be fun.
Next: Washington Nationals