The Marlins typically spend the All-Star break licking their wounds, already buried in the standings and all but officially dead.
Not this year.
By capping off a series sweep with a 7-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday afternoon, they moved into a second-place tie with the Mets in the National League East.
And with a record of 47-41, their .534 winning percentage ranks as the second-best figure at the All-Star break in franchise history. Only the 1997 Marlins (.581) enjoyed a more successful first half.
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“Good spot for us,” said Giancarlo Stanton, who belted his 20th home run, a two-run shot in the fifth that put the Marlins on top for good. “Press on the gas, man. This is when everything comes together. Nobody’s going to remember your halftime record. It’s time to go.”
The next place Stanton is going is San Diego, where he’ll flex his muscles in Monday night’s Home Run Derby. But Stanton said he’s also looking forward to the season’s second half and keeping the Marlins in the race.
“It’s when you’ve got to make your push and see who’s going to peel off [out of contention] and who’s going to keep going,” Stanton said. “We can peel off from everyone or we can keep going.”
It’s a positive sign for the Marlins that their slugger is finally showing some signs of life at the plate. He enters the break riding a seven-game hitting streak during which he’s hit five homers.
A month ago, Stanton was in the throes of a hitting slump so pronounced that he said any fan at Marlins Park could have done better than the team’s $325 million basher.
“I think you could have picked anyone in the stands and put them in right field a month ago,” Stanton said. “Things are pretty good now. [It’s] not where I want to be, but there’s been good strides. I had a good last week and [hope] to keep it going for when we come back.”
Christian Yelich had three hits, Adeiny Hechavarria scored from second base on a passed ball, and the Marlins bullpen bailed out starting pitcher Tom Koehler, who didn’t make it past the fourth inning after giving up three runs.
Koehler wasn’t happy with his performance. But he likes where the Marlins are sitting at the moment.
“It’s definitely a different position than we’ve been in since I’ve been here,” said Koehler, who has been with the Marlins since 2012. “I guess nobody’s [on the team] really experienced having an opportunity to be in the position where we’re at.”
The Marlins are on pace to win 86 games.
Koehler said it’s going to take more than that to win the division.
“If we play six games over in the first half and six games over in the second half, that’s 12,” Koehler said. “So we’ve just got to keep playing the same way. The division’s probably going to take over 90 wins, so that’s what we’re shooting for now. We’ve got a long way to go.”
A resurgent Stanton could help get them there.
Stanton’s two-run homer in the fifth off Reds starter Cody Reed gave the Marlins a 4-3 lead. One inning later, the Marlins added three more runs on RBI hits by Yelich and J.T. Realmuto.
It was a rough outing for Koehler, who gave up three runs and managed to complete only four innings. But the bullpen covered the five final innings in scoreless fashion.
Mike Dunn earned the victory and set a club record in the process. By making his 369th career relief appearance with the Marlins, Dunn moved past Braden Looper for first on the team’s all-time list.
Dunn wasn’t the only Marlin making history. Hechavarria became the first Marlin to score from second base on a passed ball, one charged to Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart in the second.
And on a side note, the Marlins became the first team since the 1999 Pittsburgh Pirates to enter the All-Star break with as many as five players batting over .300. Realmuto, Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Martin Prado and Derek Dietrich are all hitting over the .300 mark.
Manager Don Mattingly told everyone to enjoy the break but to be ready to play when they return.
“Let’s make sure [we] don’t do anything stupid over the break,” Mattingly said of his message to his players. “Don’t come back sunburned where you can’t pick up your arm. It happens. We’re going to have to be ready to play every day as we get into the second half.”