The Miami Marlins, at times during the first half of the season, scratched the surface of what they could be at their best.
And the Marlins, also at times, showed clear signs that they are a young team
Those ebbs and flows will likely continue into the second half of the season, which begins Friday with a three-game home series against the New York Mets.
“We’re not trying to build a team that’s kind of competitive,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said recently. “We’re happy that we’re getting better, but we’re still sitting here with the record we have, and we have to get better.”
At 33-55, the Marlins have the fifth-worst record in Major League Baseball and the worst mark in the National League. They are six games behind the Mets, who went into the break at 40-50.
The postseason is almost assuredly out of the question barring a miraculous run over the final 74 games.
Here are three things to watch for as the Marlins begin their final 74-game stretch:
Can the starting pitching keep up its pace?
The unquestioned strength for the Marlins all season has been their starting rotation. Eight pitchers — all under the age of 27 — have combined for a 3.92 ERA that ranked as the seventh-best mark heading into the All-Star break.
The group — Jose Urena, Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Jordan Yamamoto, Elieser Hernandez and Zac Gallen — has also collected 39 quality starts, defined as pitching at least six innings while giving up no more than three earned runs, over the first 88 games. That 44.3 percent efficiency ranked ninth in MLB and fifth in the NL.
The Marlins’ now have the task of setting their rotation for the second half of the season. Urena (herniated disc) and Lopez (right shoulder strain) are on the injured list, leaving six starters for five spots.
Smith will start the series against the Mets on Friday, followed by Gallen on Saturday and Alcantara on Sunday. That leaves Yamamoto, Richards and Hernandez for the final two spots unless the Marlins go with a six-man rotation, which seems unlikely.
There’s always the possibility that the starter left out of the rotation reverts to the bullpen as a long reliever/spot starter. And considering the youth of the group — and the fact that no one outside of Urena has pitched a full major-league season — the Marlins could also move players between the bullpen and the rotation to preserve inning limits.
Was the winning stretch a fluke or sign of things to come?
For three weeks, the Marlins looked virtually unstoppable. A 13-5 stretch over 20 days from mid-May to early June brought optimism to a team that started the 10-31 before that run. The offense showed up in droves. An 11-3 win over the San Francisco Giants, a pair of 9-3 wins over the San Diego Padres and a 16-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers were the highlights of surge.
But after going 10-19 over the final 29 games, including just 4-11 at home, the question remains: Was that winning stretch something the Marlins can tap into again during the second half of the season or was it just a mirage?
It starts with getting consistent offense. The Marlins have gotten that over the final six weeks from Miguel Rojas and Garrett Cooper. Brian Anderson had a solid month of June before sustaining a right elbow contusion on July 2 and being limited to pinch-hit duties for the final five games before the break. Rookie outfielder Harold Ramirez has potential to make an impact, too.
The Marlins have seen immense growth from their prospects over the past season. Second baseman Isan Diaz and outfielder Monte Harrison in Triple A New Orleans and pitcher Sixto Sanchez in Double A Jacksonville were selected to represent the Marlins in the Futures Game and are widely expected to be regular contributors to the Marlins by 2020 or 2021.
But there’s so much more brewing in the farm system, especially with the 2019 draft class working its way into the Gulf Coast League, short-season Batavia and Class A Clinton, Iowa.
The Marlins have stressed long-term development of their farm system over the past two seasons when they began the rebuild under the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter ownership group. Those developments are showing up.