Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins have more to prove in second half of season

The Marlins hope the Home Run Derby victory by Giancarlo Stanton can jumpstart his second half and help Miami to a playoff spot.
The Marlins hope the Home Run Derby victory by Giancarlo Stanton can jumpstart his second half and help Miami to a playoff spot. lriely@miamiherald.com

Don Mattingly doesn’t have that warm and fuzzy feeling.

The Marlins are six games over .500 and in the thick of the wild-card race. They just sent four players to the All-Star Game and another — Giancarlo Stanton — to Home Run Derby glory.

They have the highest team batting average in the National League.

They have Ichiro Suzuki and his 3,000th hit on the horizon.

They will soon have Dee Gordon back on the field.

They actually have people talking about them in July for once.

But all that isn’t good enough for Mattingly. No time to celebrate.

With the Marlins set to resume play on Friday night in St. Louis, Mattingly isn’t about to declare the season a success when a bad second half could render meaningless a good first.

“We’re not talking wild card,” Mattingly said of his second-half goal for the Marlins. “We’re trying to win this division. That’s our goal, and the wild card isn’t something you even want to talk about.”

Keep in mind, the Marlins have never won a division title in their 23 seasons, never finished in first place. The two years they won the World Series — 1997 and 2003 — they got in as a wild card.

Nothing wrong with that, and Mattingly knows that history.

But he’s aiming higher.

“I think we’ve got to think differently, in a sense,” Mattingly said. “Because you get the feeling, being around the club, that everybody’s really excited that this club’s doing this well.”

Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton talks about winning the 2016 All-Star Home Run Derby while breaking the record for most home runs in the event.

The Marlins are tied for second with the New York Mets in the NL East, six games behind the Washington Nationals. At 47-41, their .534 win percentage is the second-best won-loss mark at the All-Star break in franchise history.

They became the first team since the 1999 Pirates to have five regulars hitting .300 or better at the break; they have a bona fide ace in Jose Fernandez; and their defense is one of the best in the majors.

The back end of their bullpen, especially with the recent addition of Fernando Rodney, stacks up well with the rest of the league.

But they are now without flaws.

In particular, the starting rotation beyond Fernandez consists of four question marks. Though they lead the NL with a .273 team batting average, they rank 11th in runs scored. Only four teams over the past 50 years have hit as well as the Marlins but scored as little as they have.

The front office is scouring the market in search of starting pitching help in advance of the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

Jose Fernandez talks about pitching in the All-Star Game Tuesday July 12, 2016 and facing David Ortiz in his final All-Star at-bat

But it’s proving to be a challenge. One, there aren’t that many attractive pitchers on the market. The number of teams like the Marlins looking for starters is greater than the number of pitchers who are likely to be available.

Two, because of a dearth of talent in the Marlins’ farm system, they don’t have many trade assets other teams would want in return for a starting arm.

“It’s extremely challenging right now, and rightfully so,” Marlins president Michael Hill said of the pitching market.

The Marlins aren’t especially deep in position players, either. Other than first baseman Justin Bour, who is out with an ankle sprain, the Marlins have been fortunate to avoid serious injuries to their core unit.

And while they lost Gordon to an 80-game drug suspension, they haven’t missed him that much thanks to the play of Derek Dietrich. Gordon is scheduled to return from his suspension on July 28.

As long as the Marlins remain healthy, and if they can manage to land a starting pitcher before the trade deadline, they figure to remain in the race all the way to the end.

But Mattingly said players have to be ready to “pay the price.”

“These guys, I think, they think they’re good. And that’s a good thing,” Mattingly said. “We’ve got some talent. You can see it. But we have to put that on the field every day, and that sounds boring. But it’s an every-day process. And that’s the hardest thing about baseball. It’s not about having a good game every once in a while.”

Mattingly isn’t easing up on the gas.

“I don’t want to make it sound like I’m not happy,” Mattingly said. “I’m very happy. But I think there’s more in there with these guys — and that’s my job, to get more out of them and to get them to reach their full potential. And [six games over .500] is not our full potential. We’re better than that.”

COMING UP

▪ Friday: Marlins LHP Wei-Yin Chen (5-3, 4.83 ERA) at St. Louis Cardinals LHP Jaime Garcia (6-6, 4.01), 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.

▪ Saturday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (6-7, 4.50) at Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright (8-5, 4.49), 7:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.

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