It wasn’t that long ago — three years, in fact — that the Marlins opened the season with high expectations. Sports Illustrated put them on the cover, Showtime cameras tagged along for a weekly series, and baseball experts across the land were picking them for the playoffs.
And then it all went splat in a cataclysmic implosion.
The team was a bust. The manager was fired. The roster was gutted.
So what’s different this time?
“We’re on a better track,” said star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Sunday, one day before the Marlins take the field for their season opener against Atlanta. “It’s a nice vibe, a new revamp.”
A sellout crowd is expected for the 4:10 p.m. opener at Marlins Park, with Henderson Alvarez scheduled to throw the first pitch in a season the Marlins hope leads them to the postseason for the first time since 2003 when they captured the World Series.
Standing on the top step of the home dugout and surveying Sunday’s workout, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria echoed Stanton’s sentiment, one of cautious optimism and no uncertain enthusiasm.
“Lots of talent,” Loria said. “Let it shine.”
That’s the idea, anyway.
The Marlins spent the offseason bolstering the lineup and pitching rotation, adding three new infielders and a pair of new starters, in a bid to improve on their 2014 record of 77-85. They also signed 41-year-old Japanese legend Ichiro Suzuki to strengthen the bench.
If it adds up the way the Marlins think it will, they’ll be playing — in the words of president of baseball operations Michael Hill — “162 plus.”
Plus, meaning playoffs.
The Marlins are confident they have a shot at reaching the postseason even though they reside in the same division as the Washington Nationals, a team many are picking to win it all.
One of the newcomers, first baseman Michael Morse, is awaiting the World Series ring he earned as a member of the San Francisco Giants last season. But he is already anticipating earning another one, and soon.
“I can’t wait to see our new one in ’15,” Morse said, smiling.
With expectations comes a certain degree of pressure, and third-year manager Mike Redmond said it comes with the territory. But Redmond prefers it to the alternative, which is having no hope at all and something he experienced his first year in 2013 when the Marlins lost 100 games.
“Two years ago was a rough go, losing 100 games,” Redmond acknowledged. “I didn’t come here to lose 100 games.”
Redmond said making out the lineup is easier now than it was then.
“I haven’t lost any sleep over this lineup,” Redmond said of one that now has speed at the top in the form of Dee Gordon and home run pop in the middle with Stanton.
Gordon topped the National League in stolen bases with the Dodgers last season, and Stanton led the league in homers despite missing the final 17 games after getting hit in the face with a pitch. When he steps to the plate Monday, it will mark the first time doing so in a real game since a fastball shattered his face in Milwaukee in September.
He’ll be wearing a protective face guard attached to his helmet to prevent a recurrence.
“This is the best all-around lineup I’ve had around me,” Stanton said.
But new third baseman Martin Prado, a nine-year major-league veteran with the Braves and Yankees, cautioned that it’s way too early to be making predictions.
“If you are predicting you’re going to be in the playoffs, you’ve got a gift, because nobody knows that,” Prado said.
Still, Prado said it’s hard not to feel the excitement of a new season, especially the buzz surrounding Opening Day. He said he’ll feel the butterflies, just as he always has in the past.
“For me, when I don’t feel butterflies, it’s time to walk away [from the game],” he said.
If you go
When/where: Marlins Park; 4:10 p.m.
Starting pitchers: Marlins Henderson Alvarez vs. Braves Julio Teheran.
Tickets: About 3,000 remained as of Sunday afternoon; sellout expected.
Gates open: Season ticket holders can enter starting at 1:30 p.m.; all fans can enter at 2 p.m.
TV/radio: FSFL, WINZ 940; FSFL planning 11 hours of continuous coverage starting at 11 a.m.; special 90-minute live pregame show starting at 2:30 p.m.
National anthem: Jon Secada.
Promotion: All fans attending will receive a magnetic schedule for the 2015 season.
Marlins starting lineup
1. Dee Gordon, 2b
2. Christian Yelich, lf
3. Giancarlo Stanton, rf
4. Michael Morse, 1b
5. Martin Prado, 3b
6. Marcell Ozuna, cf
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, c
8. Adeiny Hechavarria, ss
9. Henderson Alvarez, p