Barring a collapse of historic magnitude, the Marlins aren’t going to founder in another 100-loss season like they did a year ago. But there’s also no guarantee they won’t finish last for a fourth consecutive season, especially if they don’t snap out of a losing funk that carried them into the All-Star break.
“We don’t have much time to sit there creeping,” outfielder Giancarlo Stanton said Tuesday in Minneapolis following the All-Star Game as he turned his attention back to the Marlins. “We have to make a push.”
By going 10-20 to close out the first half, the Marlins went from a half-game out of first place to 7 1/2 back. They sit closer to last — a mere 2 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia — than to first.
They’re trending in the wrong direction, in other words, while dealing with serious questions about a starting rotation that was expected to be a team strength but has become its Achilles’ heel in the absence of Jose Fernandez.
“There’s so man good things that have happened in this first half,” said Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill. “But we definitely aren’t happy we closed out the first half losing three in a row. We’re not happy with how we’re playing right now.”
Despite ominous signs, the Marlins’ front office isn’t giving up.
Hill said the team’s baseball executives are asking around for starting pitchers to help stabilize a rotation that, outside of Henderson Alvarez, hasn’t lived up to promise.
The Marlins’ starters ranked eighth in the National League in staff earned run average last season. This season: Only the rotations for Arizona and Colorado have performed worse.
“It’s been a challenge to replace Jose,” Hill said of Fernandez, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in May. “Henderson Alvarez had a great first half. I think we’ve seen flashes with [Nathan] Eovaldi. I think we’ve seen flashes with [Tom] Koehler.”
Beyond that, it hasn’t been good.
The Marlins first tried to plug Fernandez’s spot with veteran Randy Wolf. When that failed to work, they turned to rookies Anthony DeSclafani and Andrew Heaney. That didn’t work, either.
Former Marlin Brad Penny, who hasn’t pitched in the majors in two years, figures to receive a shot, perhaps as early as next week after another start in the minors.
But as the Marlins open the second half, beginning Friday with a three-game series against San Francisco, they have yet to decide on a fifth starter.
Although their starting pitching has been a sore spot, the Marlins are in far better shape offensively than a year ago, when they ranked a distant last in the league in runs scored. This year, they are fourth in the NL.
“We’ve done what we wanted to do coming into this season, and that was to improve our offense,” Hill said. “Our goal was to score more runs and have a more productive offense.”
Hill acknowledged that the Marlins still strike out far too often, though. And the scoring output has slowed in recent weeks.
Overall, the Marlins are in a much better spot than they were a year ago.
Going into the All-Star break last season, they were 35-58 and 18 games out of first. Their season was already cooked.
A series sweep to the New York Mets left them a season-low six games below .500 going into this year’s break, and whether the Marlins become active buyers before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline hinges on whether they can get back into the picture between now and then.
“This [trade] market has been interesting because there are no real sellers,” Hill said. “I don't know if it will truly be defined until we get closer to the deadline. I would not say we are aggressively in ‘buy’ mode. But we’re aggressive in trying to find deals that will help us in the short term and the long term. We aren’t looking to trade any of our key pieces.”
As Stanton put it: “Pretty much all of us are alive. We’re right there.”
Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-4, 3.61 ERA) vs. San Francisco Giants LHP Madison Bumgarner (10-7, 3.47), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
Marlins RHP Henderson Alvarez (6-4, 2.63) vs. Giants RHP Tim Hudson (7-6, 2.87), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.