José and the Four Horsemen: The Miami Marlins Rotation

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 18: Caleb Smith #31 of the Miami Marlins pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at AT&T Park on June 18, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 18: Caleb Smith #31 of the Miami Marlins pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at AT&T Park on June 18, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The National League East is projected to be the strongest division in Major League Baseball in 2019.

The powerful rotation of the Philadelphia Phillies, the seemingly ubiquitous excellence of the Atlanta Braves, the deeper-than-deep everything of the Washington Nationals, and (shudders) the  Mets.

If the Miami Marlins hope to contend in this division, the swim will be mostly upstream. Each of the other four teams are projected to finish the season with a winning record, and many expect as many as three clubs to represent the N.L. East in the postseason. Nobody has the Miami Marlins amongst those expected to contend.

Without a doubt, the strength of the Miami Marlins going into Opening Day is their surprising rotation. Led by “ace” José Ureña, the rest of the rotation are mostly untested. Too easy to award them the moniker of “Young Guns,” I’m kind of thinking of them as “José and the Four Horsemen.”

Of course, the Four Horsemen to which I refer are Caleb Smith, Pablo López, Trevor Richards, and Sandy Alcántara.

For a little context, The Four Horsemen have 323 1/3 combined innings of major league experience, a full season less than Ureña has all by himself. Despite this, the only “rookie” of the bunch is Alcántara, with only 42 1/3 innings to his credit.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FL – SEPTEMBER 22: Starting pitcher Jose Urena #62 of the Miami Marlins throws in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park on September 22, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images) /

March 28th, 4:10 P.M. EST, Marlins Park: Ureña

The Miami Marlins open the season with Ureña ready to face off with Kyle Freeland of the Colorado Rockies. Nearly any first inning would be better than Ureña’s inaugural frame of the season than last years’. In Ureña’s first ever Opening Day start, Chicago Cubs centerfielder Ian Happ drove his (and everyone’s) first pitch of the season deep and out of cavernous Marlins Park. Ureña followed that with a walk, an HBP, a strikeout of Willson Contreras, a groundout, another HBP, another walk, another HBP, and finally, a groundout to end the half-inning with a 3-0 deficit.

Of course, Ureña finished with a strong September (30 IP, 1.20 ERA, .183 oppBA, 5-0 record), and hopes to carry that into this regular season. Freeland, on the other hand, had a good season all the way around. A 17-7 record and a 2.85 ERA playing in extremely hitter-friendly Coors Field is nothing to sneeze at. He struck out 173 in 202 1/3 innings.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FL – SEPTEMBER 17: Trevor Richards #63 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch during the game against the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on September 17, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

March 29th, 7:10 P.M. EST, Marlins Park: Richards

The “Legend of the Unknown Pitcher” has been told and retold.

"Trevor Richards worked at a brewery and was a substitute teacher as recently as this calendar year. Now he’s a lock to make the Marlins Opening Day Rotation. – Kevin Kraczkowski, Marlin Maniac"

From humble beginnings came Richards, who was undrafted out of NCAA Division 2 Drury University. After a season and some change in independent ball with the Gateway Grizzlies, in the Frontier League, the Miami Marlins scouting department saw something special in the young man and signed him to a minor league deal in mid-2016.

A quick rise through the Miami Marlins system would see Richards make stops with the Batavia Muckdogs, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, and the New Orleans Baby Cakes in just under two calendar years. After joining the Marlins rotation last season, he racked up a team-leading 130 strikeouts in 126 innings.

As for the Rockies on day two, Venezuelan native German Márquez will try to get his licks in. Márquez would merit serious consideration as a “staff ace” on at least half of other National League clubs. He was 14-11 with a 3.77 ERA, and like Freeman, a 33-game starter in 2018.

Miami Marlins
MIAMI, FL – AUGUST 07: Pablo Lopez #49 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Marlins Park on August 7, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

March 30th, 6:10 P.M. EST, Marlins Park: López

López started 10 games for the Miami Marlins in 2018, and somehow finished with a team-third 0.5 brWAR amongst pitchers on the club. Far more impressive, López allowed 10 hits and one walk over 20 Spring Training innings, striking out 16 and finishing with a 0.550 WHIP and a 0.90 ERA.

López will face off against 6’3″ lefty Tyler Anderson. Anderson started 32 games for the Rockies last year and was 7-9 with a 4.55 ERA and 164 K’s in 176 innings.

Miami Marlins
WEST PALM BEACH, FL – FEBRUARY 28: Sandy Alcantara #22 of the Miami Marlins pitches in the second inning against the Houston Astros at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on February 28, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

March 31st, 1:10 P.M. EST, Marlins Park: Alcántara

Alcántara had his struggles in Spring Training with 11 walks surrendered in 15 1/3 innings, while also allowing 15 hits and eight earned runs. Alcántara also displayed his upside, collecting 21 strikeouts over the same time. Initially expected to get a little additional work in the high-minors with the Baby Cakes, the surprise release of Dan Straily sped his ascension to the Miami Marlins starting rotation.

Jon Gray will start opposite Alcántara. Gray was 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA over 31 starts last season, with 183 K’s in 172 1/3 innings.

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If there’s one thing that stands out to me about the Colorado rotation it’s that they were extremely fortunate to have four starters get a combined 129 starts in 2018. The only other pitchers to make starts for the Rockies were Chad Bettis (20), Antonio Senzatela (13), and Jeff Hoffman (one).

For comparison’s sake, the Marlins started 13 different pitchers through the season, with only Ureña (31) topping 30. Keeping Ureña and the Four Horsemen healthy would prove a boon to the Marlins record, and could result in the team challenging for a winning record before anyone expects it.

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