To say the road was not kind to the Marlins last season was an understatement.
The team finished with a 30-51 record on the road, the third-worst mark in baseball, tied with the Reds and only slightly better than the Phillies (26-55) and Braves (25-56).
And those last two are not the National League East rivals the Marlins will be facing in the next week.
They’ll face the Nationals and the Mets — the two teams they were predicted to be in direct contention with this season in the division race — on their first road trip beginning Thursday.
The Marlins can’t afford to get off to a poor start on the road this season.
Last year’s road woes contributed to a 16-22 start by May 17, which prompted team ownership to fire then-manager Mike Redmond. An injury-plagued team never recovered, falling as low as 27 games under .500 by Aug. 30.
“I really couldn’t put a finger on it,” catcher Jeff Mathis said. “Obviously, a lot of stuff went on last year, but you have to win games no matter what the situation, and hopefully that changes this year.”
The Marlins failed to win their two opening games at home against the Tigers, struggling to score runs consistently outside of a dramatic late-inning surge during Tuesday’s near-comeback that fell short in 11 innings.
Things got worse Wednesday when even Jose Fernandez couldn’t deliver and extend his historic perfect home record at Marlins Park.
Although it’s an extremely tiny portion of the schedule, the Marlins will enter a stretch that should they pick up some wins could turn things around very quickly and play a big role if they are to remain in contention later in the season.
The Marlins will play 16 of their next 23 games on the road, beginning with those three-game series against the Nationals and Mets.
The Marlins then have a 10-game trip later in April, the first seven of which come against the Giants and Dodgers, both of whom are once again considered contenders for the National League West division and possibly more.
“It’s important to set the tone and let other teams know when you go into their ballpark that they’re going to get a fight, and that we’re not going to roll over against the two teams everybody is picking to win the division,” said infielder Chris Johnson, who is in his first season with the Marlins and ninth overall.
The Marlins have only finished one season in their history — 2009 — with a winning record on the road (44-37), and they finished 41-41 in 2011.
Early road success can give the Marlins a much-needed jump on their biggest rivals and teams they will likely need to beat often to have any hope of securing their first winning season since that 2009 campaign.
It starts with the Nationals.
The Marlins play their Washington foes six times on the road and have 13 of their 19 meetings with them before May 23.
“The Nationals have a very talented group, and [their manager] Dusty [Baker] is a guy that’s been around a long time and you know he’ll have them playing,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We expect them to be one of the clubs that if we’re going to have a chance to win we have to get through them.”
Making inroads will be tough as they take on some of the league’s best hitters in Bryce Harper and Yoenis Cespedes and best pitchers such as Max Scherzer and Matt Harvey.
“It’s a long season, and you have to keep grinding,” Mathis said. “But any time you roll into a division opponent’s city you want to make a statement and come out and get some wins.”