It could be worse. It could be better.
A quarter of the way into the season, the Marlins are neither dead in the water — as they were at this very time a year ago — nor skimming across the waves in a manner suggestive of brighter days ahead.
Their 21-19 record represents a five-win improvement from a year ago at the 40-game mark, and they’re sitting just three games out in the National League East.
Here’s a look at what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong and what lies ahead in the future:
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1) They’re scoring more. OK, they’re not the ’27 Yankees. But they’re averaging 4.05 runs per game, an improvement over last year’s 3.78 runs when the only more-anemic NL team was the Braves. And all that with their big gun, Giancarlo Stanton, mired in a 4-for-44 slump and hitting .221 overall. But they’re the only team in the National League with four regulars (Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto, Martin Prado and Marcell Ozuna) hitting over .300.
2) They’re protecting late leads. The back end of the bullpen had potential disaster written all over it when the Marlins lost Carter Capps (Tommy John surgery) and lefty Mike Dunn before the season even started. But A.J. Ramos has converted all 12 of his save opportunities, David Phelps has transitioned into an eighth-inning force, and Kyle Barraclough has proved mostly reliable. The Marlins are 21-3 when they are either leading or tied after seven innings.
3) They’re healthy. Aside from the Capps/Dunn preseason injuries, the Marlins have largely avoided significant losses to their core group of players. This is a major departure from last season, when their starting rotation was crippled by injuries and Stanton missed the second half with a broken hand. Not one of their starting position players — nor any of their starting pitchers — has landed on the disabled list.
1) Dee Gordon. On the same night the Marlins were celebrating their four-game sweep over the Dodgers in Los Angeles, Gordon dropped a bombshell when he informed the team he had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and would begin serving an 80-game suspension. There went the Marlins’ leadoff man and Gold Glove second baseman. Derek Dietrich has filled in capably in Gordon’s absence. But Dietrich possesses neither Gordon’s range in the field nor his speed on the basepaths. The Marlins have attempted just five stolen bases — the second-fewest in the majors — since Gordon vanished from the scene.
2) Early and middle relief. While the back end of the bullpen has remained stable and pitched reasonably well, the same can’t be said for the rest of it. So far, the Marlins have used 12 relievers, with all of the turnover involving the early and middle men. The Marlins don’t have a situational lefty, what with Dunn on the disabled list and Craig Breslow washing out.
3) Inconsistency. While the Marlins have held their own against the two juggernauts of the NL East by going 7-6 against the Mets and Nationals, they are 2-7 against the two rebuilding teams most picked to pull up the rear spots in the division, the Braves and Phillies. (They are 12-6 against non-division opponents.) If they are to become serious contenders, the Marlins must beat up on the bums.
The Marlins expect to have Dunn back by the end of the month and long man Edwin Jackson perhaps on Friday. Those two additions will help stabilize the bullpen. Gordon won’t return from his suspension until the end of July. While the Marlins are coming off back-to-back losses to the Phillies, they have gone 16-8 since starting 5-11 — an indication they could remain in the hunt until the end.
▪ Friday: Marlins LHP Justin Nicolino (2-1, 3.75 ERA) vs. Washington Nationals RHP Tanner Roark (2-3, 3.10), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (5-2, 3.21) vs. Nationals RHP Joe Ross (3-3, 2.63), 7:15 p.m., Marlins Park.