On the heels of nine consecutive losing seasons, the Miami Marlins hope that they are on the verge of turning things around. The Marlins lost 105 games, second-most in franchise history, just a few games better than the 1998 season when they utterly dismantled their world championship team.
However, there are reasons to believe the Marlins will start trending in the right direction. A few of their young players have started to establish themselves as solid big leaguers.
Plus, for the first time in several years, the Marlins have acquired veteran players in their prime with the hope that they can help make them a competitive team.
Of course, life in the NL East isn’t likely to be easy. The other four teams in the division are all eyeing a spot in the postseason and will view the Marlins as a team they should dominate this year. And, now, the team has to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak that has already put a quick stop to its games.
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Miami Marlins 2019 Results
The 2019 season was a disaster from the start. The Marlins sat at .500 four games into the season, but that would be as good as it got. By the third week in April, the Marlins were 4-15 and finished the month with a record of 8-21.
In May, the Marlins somehow put together a six-game winning streak. However, that came after dropping 10 of 11 games.
June turned out to be the best month for the Marlins. Despite a six-game losing streak early in the month, Miami put together two separate four-game winning streaks.
The Marlins finished the month 13-14, the closest they came to a winning month. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. The Marlins were dreadful throughout the second half.
In August, the Marlins were winless in 14 road games. Miami failed to win back-to-back games at any point in the month and had two six-game losing skids. September wasn’t much kinder to the team, which won back-to-back games once.
When all was said and done, the Marlins finished 57-105 in 2019. They were 40 games out of first place in the NL East and 24 games behind the fourth-place Phillies.
They also had the worst record in the National League, finishing 12 games worse than the Pirates, who had the second-worst record in the National League. Only the Tigers and Orioles lost more games than Miami.
Miami Marlins Key Additions
As mentioned, the Marlins acquired several veterans over the winter in hopes of improving. The most significant move was a trade for infielder Jonathan Villar, who was acquired from the Orioles.
The versatile Villar is expected to become Miami’s primary third baseman. While not an All-Star, Villar is coming off one of his best seasons, hitting 24 home runs and posting an OPS of .792 in 2019.
The Marlins also made a significant move on the other side of the infield, claiming first baseman Jesus Aguilar off waivers. Granted, Aguilar was on waivers because he struggled at the plate.
But he’s just two years removed from hitting 35 home runs and producing an OPS of .890 with the Brewers when given a chance to play every day. He will compete with Garrett Cooper for playing time at first base, but with the designated hitter being used in the National League, the Marlins should be able to give both plenty of at-bats.
Miami added another power bat in its outfield by signing Corey Dickerson to a two-year deal. Injuries limited Dickerson to 76 games last season. However, he averaged over 21 home runs per season between 2016-18 when he played regularly and should be an upgrade over the players the Marlins played in left field.
Finally, the Marlins signed veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli. While he figures to be the backup to Jorge Alfaro, Cervelli should serve as a mentor for Alfaro and help the young catcher manage Miami’s pitching staff.
Speaking of the pitching staff, the Marlins also made a couple of additions to their bullpen this winter. Brandon Kintzler was the most notable addition.
Outside of an injury-plagued 2015 campaign, Kintzler has been a solid reliever for nearly a decade. He also has experience as a closer and could be an option for that role if others falter.
The Marlins also worked out a trade with the Yankees for young lefty Stephen Tarpley, who has a high upside despite mixed results in the majors.
Miami Marlins Big Losses
While they made some important additions, the Marlins also lost a few players they’ll miss. The most significant loss will be second baseman Starling Castro, who’s been Miami’s most consistent hitter over the last two seasons.
Castro led the team with 22 home runs, and the Marlins are taking a leap of faith in youngster Isan Diaz replacing Castro at the keystone.
Veterans Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, and Martin Prado are also no longer in Miami. In fairness, none of the three were particularly helpful, as all three were a shadow of their former selves. However, as veterans, they did bring plenty of intangibles to the table.
On the pitching staff, several relievers among the team’s most-used pitchers are no longer in Miami. Jarlin Garcia was lost on waivers despite pitching to a 3.02 ERA in 2019.
Tayron Guerrero and Tyler Kinley, who both made over 50 appearances for the Marlins last season, are also with other organizations in 2020.
Miami Marlins Pitching
Much of Miami’s improvement in 2020 is contingent on the performance of the starting rotation. The Marlins are hopeful that Sandy Alcantara can continue to assert himself as the team’s ace.
Despite a 6-14 record, Alcantara had an impressive 3.88 ERA, as well as two complete-game shutouts, indicating that he has the potential to be a frontline starter.
Lefty Caleb Smith figures to be Miami’s No. 2 starter behind Alcantara. He was solid but unspectacular, going 10-11 with a 4.52 ERA. Nevertheless, he brings a fair amount of experience and consistency to the pitching staff.
Of course, Miami’s success hinges on the performances of young pitchers like Pablo Lopez, Jordan Yamamoto, and Elieser Hernandez. All three got their feet wet in the majors by making at least 15 starts each. Naturally, the results were mixed, although the Marlins hope that a little more experience will lead to more consistency.
Finally, the wild card in Miami’s rotation could be Jose Urena. In the past, Urena has flashed the potential to be a frontline starter. However, he was demoted to the bullpen because he was ineffective.
In 2017, he posted a 3.82 ERA and won 14 games. Urena was nearly as good in 2018, so the potential is there if he can recapture his form from a few seasons ago. If he can do that, he’s a potential difference-maker in Miami’s rotation.
Meanwhile, things are slowly coming along in the Miami bullpen, which is usually the last step for a rebuilding team. The Marlins look ready to make Drew Steckenrider their closer in 2020.
Elbow trouble held him back and led to an unimpressive ERA of 6.28. But Steckenrider throws hard and has the stuff to be an effective late-game reliever if he’s healthy.
The Marlins also have a pair of veterans to serve as reliable setup men in front of Steckenrider with Kintzler and Ryne Stanek. Either could fill in as the closer if needed. But if Steckenrider can solidify the ninth inning, the Marlins could have a formidable trio late in games.
Miami Marlins Offense
After all of their offseason additions, the Marlins have a chance to put together a solid lineup. Villar should hit toward the top of the order and help set the table for the club’s power hitters.
If Aguilar and Dickerson can replicate what they did a couple of years ago, the Marlins will have a couple of capable run-producers in the middle of the order. Those two should help provide protection for right fielder Brian Anderson, who has emerged as a productive everyday player.
The Marlins also know that they should get some production out of shortstop Miguel Rojas and catcher Jorge Alfaro. Rojas isn’t an impact player because he doesn’t provide much power. He hits for a decent average and can get on base. Alfaro showed he’s coming along offensively, contributing 18 home runs and 57 RBIs.
With the designated hitter in play, Garrett Cooper should receive more playing time and provide another power option.
Of course, several of Miami’s younger players remain wild cards. Lewis Brinson is likely to get another chance in center field despite being a .183 career hitter in the majors.
As mentioned, Isan Diaz is in line to be the primary second baseman despite being an unproven hitter in the big leagues. Outfielders like Jon Berti, Magneuris Sierra, and Harold Ramirez could also get an opportunity to play, especially if Brinson continues to struggle.
Miami Marlins Three Key Players
In Miami’s rotation, Urena is the most important figure. The Marlins aren’t sure what they’ll get out of some of their younger starters, but they’ve seen Urena perform at a high level in the past. If they’re going to surpass expectations in 2020, he needs to regain the form he had a couple of years ago.
If they can get Urena on track, along with Alcantara and Smith, the Marlins might have a trio at the top of their rotation that can rank up with the other rotations in the NL East.
In the bullpen, it’s all about Steckenrider. While the Marlins like his upside, he has 113 2/3 career innings in the majors.
Granted, Kintzler and Stanek give them some other options if he struggles. But he has the best stuff of that trio, and the future of Miami’s bullpen will look a lot better if Steckenrider solidifies the closer’s job this year.
Offensively, Aguilar is the biggest key. The 35 home runs he hit in Milwaukee two years ago is evidence that he has the most power of anybody on Miami’s roster.
In fact, the Marlins don’t have another player who can come close to matching Aguilar’s power. If he can replicate that performance, it changes the way pitchers have to approach Miami’s lineup and will help make Dickerson and Anderson more dangerous hitters as well.
Miami Marlins Schedule Breakdown
The Marlins will play 40 of their 60 games against their NL East rivals. With the other four teams finishing .500 or better last season, the Marlins have their work cut out.
Miami finished with a winning record against the Phillies. However, it was a combined 29 games under .500 against the Braves, Mets, and Nationals, indicating a lot of ground to make up. Facing teams from the AL East in its other 20 games, including six with the Tampa Bay Rays, doesn’t make Miami’s schedule in 2020 much easier.
On paper, there should be no doubt that the Marlins are better this year than they were a year ago. They’ve improved the lineup considerably and have a few more answers on their pitching staff than they did heading into the 2019 season.
In a full 162-game season, Miami would surely avoid another 100-loss season. However, the division-heavy schedule could work against the Marlins this season. In all likelihood, the Marlins are doomed to another last-place finish and may not see many tangible signs of progress in 2020.