Marlins are making the NL East interesting


Giancarlo Stanton. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Regardless of what happens this weekend, what the Miami Marlins have accomplished so far this season is worth a moment of reflection. Entering Friday’s games, the Marlins are 60-61, just a game behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East standings. In fact, the Braves are closer to the Marlins than they are to the Washington Nationals, who sit comfortably six games ahead in first place.

But yes, take a moment and re-read that sentence. The Marlins, the team that sold off nearly all of its parts to much ridicule over the past two seasons, are almost a .500 team in mid-August. And even if the Marlins don’t push ahead of the Braves and contend for a division title in the remaining six weeks of the regular season, their play this year shows their future is bright and they will be a force next season and longer.

Led by budding superstar Giancarlo Stanton and his MVP-caliber season, the Marlins have been better sooner than expected. Despite a starting rotation ERA of 4.10, the Marlins have been buoyed by a young but capable offense (nearly four runs a game) and a solid bullpen (3.40 ERA) led by closer Steve Cishek. Injuries have hurt their rotation of late — all-star Henderson Alvarez has missed two starts with shoulder inflammation and should be back soon — but there’s loads of potential.

Alvarez, who has a 2.48 ERA, is a quick-working right-hander with dominant stuff. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, acquired in Hanley Ramirez trade, has the third-fastest fastball in the majors (95.7 mph) and is still learning to control it. Tom Koehler, a Marlins’ 2008 18th-round draft pick, has been surprisingly good. The Marlins gave up two prospects to get him from the Astros at the trade deadline, but Jarred Cosart is a strong addition.

What’s also stunning about the Marlins is that their star pitcher, Jose Fernandez, last season’s NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young candidate, hasn’t pitched since May 9 because of Tommy John surgery. Imagine what the Marlins’ rotation could look like next season: Fernandez, Alvarez, Cosart, Eovaldi and Koehler. The oldest of the bunch is Koehler at 28. Fernandez is 22 and the others are 24. Most are under team control through, at least, the 2017 season.

The offense has a strong foundation in Stanton to build around. He is only 24 years, already a two-time all-star and has found a way to improve each season. Outfielder Christian Yelich, the Marlins’ first-round pick in 2010, has a .768 OPS but has shown many flashes of potential. Veteran journeyman Casey McGehee has been a surprising boost to the lineup behind Stanton. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna (16 home runs) and slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (.275 average) have been nice complementary pieces to the lineup.

The Marlins have the second smallest payroll in baseball at about $36 million but have been competitive with a mix of scouting, player development and trades. And if their strong core of players continue to improve, and the team’s oft-criticized ownership decides to spend more money to add players, the Marlins may be pushing for something greater than .500 next season.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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