Will the Marlins score more runs?
They better, or it’ll be another long season -- no matter how successfully they pitch. The Marlins scored only 513 runs a season ago. And just how bad was that, you ask? Historically bad. Since 1993, the year the Marlins joined the league, the only other team to score as few runs was the 2010 Seattle Mariners, who also hung up 513.
The Marlins need desperately for Giancarlo Stanton to bounce back from what was a below-average in which opponents pitched him carefully and his home run production dipped. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia should provide the Marlins with a significant offensive boost at the position. Whether newcomers Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee pump more life into the offense remains to be seen.
Will Jose Fernandez suffer from a sophomore slump?
Fernandez set the bar so high as a rookie that it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to equal the performance, one that garnered the 21-year-old hurler Rookie of the Year accolades. Justin Verlander was every bit as successful his second year as he was his first when he landed ROY honors. Dwight Gooden, who is oft compared to Fernandez, was even BETTER in Year 2, going from 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA in ’84 to 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA in ’85.
There is nothing to suggest Fernandez’s rookie year was some kind of anomaly that can’t be repeated. Opponents will certainly try to figure out a way to beat Fernandez, perhaps by forcing him to work deeper into counts. But he has all the tools to offset any such attempts.
How good is the Marlins’ pitching staff?
Very good, and likely getting better. If there is such a thing as a strong suit for a team that lost 100 games, it definitely was pitching for the Marlins. Led by the aforementioned Fernandez, both the starting staff and bullpen did its best to offset the team’s abysmal offense.
And there’s reason to think the pitching could be even better in 2014. As a direct result of injuries to starters Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, and a poor spring for Justin Turner that led to his demotion to the minors, the Marlins went 14-41 in April and May with a starting staff that consisted of Wade LeBlanc, Kevin Slowey and Alex Sanabia, as well as Ricky Nolasco and Fernandez.
Everyone is not only healthy. But the Marlins have pitching prospects in the minors, led by Andrew Heaney, who could be ready to jump in if reinforcements are needed.
How do the Marlins stack up with the rest of the NL East?
The Washington Nationals are the clear favorites to win the division, followed by the Atlanta Braves. Beyond that, it gets murky, with Philadelphia and New York -- along with the Marlins -- battling it for the remaining three spots.
The Phillies are growing older and the Mets lack the necessary talent to make a fight of it with the Phillies and Braves. The consensus view among scouts and other baseball onlookers is that the Marlins, while nowhere close to making a run for it, are on the rise and could grab third place, if not second due to major losses to the Braves’ pitching staff.
The Marlins have finished last each of the past three seasons. That streak should end.
So when will the Marlins be positioned to win?
Given their wealth of pitching, the Marlins could be making some serious noise as early as 2015. The major problem is their lack of offense. Stanton is under team control through 2016, but could be traded before then should he decline a contract extension the Marlins are expected to offer him following the upcoming season. That could create even more problems offensively for the Marlins.
Fortunately for the Marlins, they have enough pitching -- both at the big-league and minor-league levels -- to dangle around for quality hitters. The front office refrained from dipping into their pitching bank to deal for hitters over the past offseason. But that could -- and should -- change. If the Marlins can acquire a talented hitter or two, they could contend in 2015.