Back in the preseason, the Miami Marlins were given a minuscule chance to win the National League East, the fourth-highest chance in their own division to make the Wild Card and an expectation of being a .500 team, give or take a game.
In short, there wasn’t a lot of hope from the outside that this team could compete with the likes of the Braves and Mets, and with good reason.
Both of those teams have opened their pocketbooks recently, while the Marlins have chosen a different route, though the move to obtain Luis Arraez looks genius level.
A funny thing happened on the way to that fourth-place finish, though, as we’re nearing mid-June and look up and see the Marlins in second place in the division at 34-28 and as we stand here today owning the second National League Wild Card spot.
The news is not all good though, as some underlying numbers suggest it’ll be difficult to continue at this pace all season the most obvious being the Marlins have been outscored by 29 runs on the season, which equates to being outscored by 76 runs over the course of 162 games, if it continues at this pace.
Teams with a negative run differential have made the playoffs and one even won the World Series. So while it’s not impossible, let’s just say it’s challenging to do.
By the Pythagorean Theorem for baseball standards, the Marlins should be 28-34 and battling the Phillies for fourth in the East.
The reason for the difference is the Marlins 16-4 record in one-run games, the best such record in baseball by a mile and 4 wins more than any other team.
Simply put the Marlins are winning by the thinnest of margins and that’s really tough to maintain over 162 games.
There are many that believe winning one-run games is a sign of a good team, but not all one-run wins are the same and over time I’ve come to understand that it’s generally a sign of a team that’s living on the edge and eventually it’ll catch up to a team.
I like the Pythagorean Theorem for baseball, use it regularly, understand that there’s actually math behind it and smart people discovered and improved upon it.
The one thing it can’t do, though is take away any of the 16 one-run wins the Marlins already have, even if they’re outscored by 1000 runs the rest of the year.
It may end up being correct over time, but not this season.
On the other hand, 20 one-run games out of 62, means the Marlins are on pace for a whopping 52 one-run games and the odds are they won’t win 80% of them as they have to date.
To do so, would require the Marlins to go 42-10 in one-run affairs and that seems like a stretch for any team, much less one living on the margins.
On the field, you’re looking at a team that’s 18th in wOBA, 19th in wRC+, 16th in ERA and 5th in xFIP.
The bullpen ERA is 4.07 to date and while that isn’t great, plenty of contenders, even the Rays, Rangers, and Dodgers are worse, and the Marlins bullpen xFIP is in the top 10.
With their metrics tending to be near the middle of the pack, it seems logical that the one-run contests every third game are likely to continue fairly regularly, and to that end Fangraphs predicts the Marlins to finish at .500 for the rest of the season, ending up 6 games over .500 for the season.
Is that enough to make the playoffs? That same site gives it a 46% chance, almost double the preseason, but not a sure thing by any means.
I read this as they’ve played over their heads and into serious playoff contention, but the margin of error is small.
If the one-run games start going the other way at some point, it’ll be tough to overcome, because even with their better-than-expected start, the Marlins still have the 8th best odds in a National League that has 6 playoff spots.
Still, their odds have increased dramatically since June 1 and this team is a fun one to watch, with young players on the edge of being stars.
It may be a weird thing to say as a fan and counterintuitive to this article, but maybe we should focus less on making the playoffs in June, enjoy what’s happening on the field and realize the best is yet to come for this team.