It has arguably been twenty years since the Miami Marlins have faced this kind of pressure.
While the team did offer plenty to be excited about in that brief two-game homestand, between a gutsy comeback to force extra innings and thirteen strikeouts from Jose Fernandez, they still ultimately hit the road without giving fans the thing that mattered most- a victory. And while an 0-2 start to the season means nothing in baseball’s grand scheme- the 2012 Giants, 2011 Cardinals, and 2009 Yankees all pulled off the feat en route to a world championship- it does hamstring the team’s chances to make inroads with a restless South Florida fanbase in 2016.
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That might sound completely unfair. In many ways, it is. If we’re talking brass tacks, bottom-line results- championships- then the Marlins have been as successful as the Dolphins, and far more recently. But the Marlins have also been to the playoffs just twice in their existence, and last posted a winning season in 2009. Even the Panthers have that beat, with five postseason berths and winning seasons in three of their last five tries. And we needn’t even take the time to mention the Heat, so established is their mastery of mattering.
The time has more than come for the Marlins to prove they are capable of providing that level of consistent contention.
The Miami Herald’s Greg Cote penned some similar thoughts just last week. But while I have no qualms with my favorite local sports writer somewhat scooping me – that will tend to happen until ESPN realizes my brilliance – I do feel Greg might have been a bit too generous on the timeframe with that season-long perspective.
The Marlins don’t just need to win this season. They need to win in April.
When the team returns to their Marlins Park confines April 15th to kick off a weekend series against the Braves, they will do so as the third most popular ticket in town, and that’s only because Beyonce doesn’t show up till the end of the month. Keeping our focus on sports though, consider what that means. For while they have never been first in a month where another team was playing, they’ve always been second, whether it be to playoff basketball or season-opening football. But this weekend will see both the Heat and the Panthers kicking off their postseasons, with likely both doing so in Miami. Between broadcasts of away games and fans flocking to home matchups, there might scarcely be a night on the homestand the Fish don’t find themselves the third most interesting thing happening on the sports scene. And considering that slate of NL East action is followed up by a ten-game West Coast swing that might prove the most difficult road trip of the season, the Marlins could easily find themselves buried in both the standings and the headlines by the end of the month.
You can certainly argue that no amount of regular season success can outshine the glow of playoff action, and that even an 8-0 start would have failed to draw away crowds from South Beach or Sunrise this weekend. But the need for putting forth the best resume possible is a real one. Already, it would take a sweep of the defending NL Champions to return home with a winning record. If they find themselves heading out west without one, they might very well be left behind for good.
This market has always put a premium on producing results; otherwise there are plenty of beaches and clubs to shell out for instead. A rather similar situation presented itself in 1996. Florida’s other three-year old franchise was making an improbable Stanley Cup run, and the Pat Riley-led Heat earned their first division title in a season that saw them win a whopping 61 games before losing to Jordan’s Bulls in the Conference Finals. The 1996 Marlins reeled off a 13-game jump in the standings from the previous season and finished just two games under .500, a run of success that laid the foundation for that first world championship in 1997.
Here’s hoping that 2016 and 2017 are looked back upon one day in a similar light.