Had Sunday been a must-win for the Marlins, Jose Fernandez would have been on the mound for them. But Fernandez died tragically, the Marlins were playing for nothing and their season came to a merciful end.
All Sunday’s 10-7 loss did was allow an emotionally drained team to dash home for the winter and try to process what has been a week-long nightmare that began with the death of its star pitcher in a boating crash.
“Obviously, the circumstances just dramatically changed the final thoughts on the season,” manager Don Mattingly said in what was his final sit-down dugout session with reporters before Sunday’s game.
To say the least.
The Marlins failed to make the postseason for the 13th consecutive season. They finished below .500 (79-82) for the seventh year in a row.
And now they begin the task of moving forward without the one player they could least afford to lose. Mattingly will return to Miami to chart out an uncertain future with front-office executives, one that does not involve Fernandez.
That process starts Monday.
“What’s happened in the last few days puts a big question mark on that,” Mattingly said. “Obviously, Jose was a huge piece of what we’re doing. He’s your ace. He’s your guy. It’s not the time to think about it or talk about it, but it won’t be long [before] we’ll have to.”
The first steps will be minor ones. Within the coming few days, the Marlins are expected to decide on their coaching staff, where one or two changes could be made.
Then comes the heavy lifting.
The Marlins must decide not only how to address the huge void left by Fernandez, but any other roster questions that need to be examined. For example, would the Marlins now field trade offers on Giancarlo Stanton or Marcell Ozuna in order to acquire a pitcher?
The free agent market for pitchers is unappealing, and the Marlins don’t have the kind of attractive prospects in their farm system they could use to reel in a top-rung pitcher, and certainly not one of Fernandez’s caliber.
For Mattingly, Sunday was a time to reflect on his first season with the Marlins, who stood at nine games over .500 on July 31 before fading over the final two months.
“When I came into spring training — and without saying it out loud — I knew there were certain things that had to happen [to reach the playoffs], and part of that was we had to be injury-free,” Mattingly said.
That didn’t happen.
The Marlins were dealt major losses with injuries to Stanton, Justin Bour, Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley and A.J. Ramos — all of them coming in the second half.
Mattingly, though optimistic the Marlins had a chance to end their postseason drought, had other concerns.
“I knew we were going to have a young club coming down the stretch,” Mattingly said. “How we were going to react to that I wasn’t quite sure.”
Mattingly echoed a sentiment that is shared by many managers of non-playoff teams this time of year, that next year will be better. Every manager of the Marlins since 2003, the last time they made the playoffs, has said the same thing.
“I realistically thought and felt pretty good about our club having a shot to play in the postseason,” Mattingly said. “That didn’t happen, but I think this season has a chance to be a steppingstone for us moving forward to next year.”