Greg Cote

There are reasons the 2018 Marlins are worth watching. You just have to look really hard

Miami Marlins Manager Don Mattingly chats with infielder Miguel Rojas on Wednesday at Marlins Park before Thursday’s Opening Day vs. the Cubs.
Miami Marlins Manager Don Mattingly chats with infielder Miguel Rojas on Wednesday at Marlins Park before Thursday’s Opening Day vs. the Cubs. pportal@miamiherald.com

Brace yourself for the Miami Marlins’ 26th season and first since the latest franchise payroll purge decimated the team. You would have to dig below the crust of the Earth and down through at least two or three tectonic plates to reach the depth of expectations the baseball literati have set for these Fire-Sale Fish.

I’m not sure what’s lower: The betting over/under on expected Marlins wins (an MLB-worst  64 1/2), or new owner Derek Jeter’s popularity after trading Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon. Miami is left with the longest odds against winning the World Series (500-1) of any team. (I believe the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, which disbanded in 1915, may have better odds).

I don’t wanna say gloom ushers in the new season where hope of spring should be, but the traditional red, white and blue bunting associated with baseball’s Opening Day would be replaced by funereal black crepe if the experts are right in their pessimism.

But enough negativity! We have six months for that. Today, we are on a Quixotic expedition to find the positives as the new-look Marlins open at Marlins Park on Thursday afternoon against the Chicago Cubs.

Ready?

Center fielder Lewis Brinson, literal and figurative centerpiece of the rebuild, is a legit NL Rookie of the Year candidate — the most promising of all the prospects gotten in return for the traded stars.

“We have a great squad in here. I firmly believe that,” Brinson said Wednesday. “I’m real confident. We’ll surprise some people.”

First baseman Justin Bour, if he can stay healthy, should be a 30-homer guy.

Derek Jeter will experience his first Opening Day as executive and part-owner of the Marlins when they face the Chicago Cubs on Thursday.

Opening Day starter José Ureña was one of only 10 NL pitchers in 2017 with at least 14 wins and an ERA as good or better than his 3.82.

OK, I will admit the positive stuff is becoming a bit more of a challenge now. Hang on. How about this:

Fans will have a calmer ballpark experience now that they don’t have to endure some “showy” star hitting 59 home runs.

In addition to the NL East games, Miami’s home schedule includes 14 games against big-draw glamor teams the Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals and Yankees.

Starter Dan Straily, third baseman Martin Prado and catcher J.T. Realmuto, three of the few other prominent Marlins not traded, will come off the disabled list eventually.

Second baseman Starlin Castro is pretty good for a guy who didn’t want to be here.

Brad Ziegler could be a good closer, presuming the Marlins give him some late leads to save.

Coral Springs native and Miami Marlins prospect Lewis Brinson talks about the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 19, 2018.

It’s always fun to guess when oft-injured starter Wei-Yin Chen will sneak in a game or two between DL stints.

The rest of the rotation is so weak there is a possibility the concession man pitching bags of peanuts in the stands will be seen, signed and on the mound next Tuesday.

Every MLB team is opening on the same day this year for the first time since 1968, and Miami is the earliest game. That means, if they can somehow score first, the Marlins will lead the majors in runs.

Speed-up rules are expected to shorten games by an average of 10 minutes, so, even if the Marlins do stink, at least they will stink quicker.

The 2006 Marlins were supposed to be really bad, too, but finished 78-84. So aspiring to be somewhat not terrible may be realistic.

If you believe losing builds character, this may be your year.

Mattingly talks about the progression of third baseman prospect Brian Anderson, who played in the majors for the first time last season.

If you were sick of always seeing “Marlins Man” in his orange jersey behind home plate, rejoice. The club didn’t renew his seats.

If for some some reason you aren’t sick of Miami’s ubiquitous DJ Khaled yet, you have another chance. He’s part of the Opening Day pregame entertainment and will debut a new Marlins theme song called, “Just Gettin’ Started.” Which is more upbeat than the rejected theme song I wrote called, “Just Tradin’ Everybody.”)

Don Mattingly has a low bar for manager of the year votes. If the Marlins don’t lose 100 games, he has a shot.

Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter talks to the media during spring training on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in Jupiter, Fla.

Sure, you hate that Jeter traded away the best players, but he’s still an upgrade over Jeffrey Loria ... right?

And if you’re buying that Jeter’s payroll dump was a prudent, necessary way to build a strong future through a bolstered farm system, you might be right. Check back in three or four years. Or so.

Anyway, by late April, just when how bad the Marlins might be could be really starting to sink in, we’ll all be distracted with outraged consternation over the Dolphins draft.

Play ball!

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