ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd pointed out this week that commissioner Bud Selig has done a lot more for this game than he gets credit for. Aside from replay, expanded playoffs, and the ousting of steroid users, Selig has helped smaller market teams build competitive programs. This week, Rob Manfred was elected to take over Selig’s position next year and will hopefully continue to protect the competitive atmosphere in baseball. And for evidence of Selig’s success with this, look no further than the 2014 Marlins.
It took the entirety of 2013 for Miami to reach the 62-win mark. A baseball fan can do the math and understand that equates to 100 losses, and, save the Astros, the butt of all jokes. A year later the Marlins have won their 62nd game in mid-August and sit at .500, still in the National League playoff mix.
In fact, the standings are tight across all of Major League Baseball as we enter the home stretch on what has been the most competitive season of recent history. The Baltimore Orioles are in control of their division and are poised to make a deep playoff run for the first time in quite a while. The Kansas City Royals lead the AL Central and look to just make the postseason for the first time since 1985. In the NL, the Milwaukee Brewers lead a division that has been owned by St. Louis for the last decade plus. All in all, 19 of the league’s 30 clubs have realistic playoff aspirations.
But Miami faces one of the toughest challenges in the National League. Currently 3.5 games out of the second wild card spot, the Marlins have an easy week before they face a serious uphill climb. After today’s off day, Miami plays two against Texas and then travels to Denver for a three-game set against the Rockies. But next week they play in Anaheim and Atlanta, not easy places to win these days, and travel to first-place Milwaukee in the second week of September. Before the regular season ends on September 28th, the Marlins play the Braves six times and the Nationals eight.
The Nationals are currently six games up in the NL East, and will host the Marlins for a four game series at the end of September. The set includes a doubleheader on Friday the 27th that is a result of a rained-out May matchup, thus fulfilling Paul Fritchner’s prophecy of an improved Nationals team:
“I gotta say it was a pretty swift move by the Nats last night to postpone this game to later in the season when we got our lineup back.”
Three and a half games will not be easy to overcome for the Marlins, and they will certainly need to take advantage of Texas and Colorado this week if they want any shot down the stretch. But All-Star Henderson Alvarez is back in the rotation and Giancarlo Stanton is heating up, giving the Fish as good a chance as ever to make a run.
Speaking of Stanton, he has a bit of a history in Denver. In just 39 at-bats there over the past three years, he has hit 7 home runs and is slugging .974. One of those homers was a 494-foot behemoth that landed where no baseball should land in that park. The Marlins begin a three-game series in Denver on Friday. If he stays true to his tendencies at all, Stanton will add to his league-leading home run and RBI totals, both of which have placed him at the forefront of the NL MVP discussion.
But Joe Frisaro wrote today that there is much more to Miami’s outfield than Stanton. He cites the statistic WAR (wins above replacement) to argue that Miami boasts the second-best outfield in all of baseball. With Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, the number of wins above replacement by Miami’s oufielders stands at 10.7, second only to Tampa Bay’s of 11. And WAR might not even account for the strength of Stanton’s and Ozuna’s arms when, unless nullified by by a flawed new rule, can literally take away wins from opponents.
Adeiny Hechavarria takes opportunities away from opponents on a daily basis. Making spectacular plays at short, he is putting on a serious campaign for the Gold Glove. No Marlin shortstop has ever won a Gold Glove, and no Marlin period has ever won the league MVP Award. If Stanton keeps his numbers up for the next month an a half, there is no reason he should not take home that hardware. And if that does happen, it will expose a gaping hole in the MLB system: Stanton was not voted into the All-Star Game. The league’s best player was not voted to start in a game that decides home field advantage in the World Series–for the sole reason that he plays for an unpopular team. Think about it.
Along with rule 7.13, new commissioner Rob Manfred should address the All-Star selection process when he takes over his new job in January. But apart from these, Manfred is being handed over a league that is as exciting to follow as it has ever been. The final weeks of the 2014 season have much in store for us, and Miami has a more-than-reasonable chance to be an integral part of that excitement.