What's going on with the Marlins?
After a predictably ugly season in 2013, there was some buzz about this Miami team heading into April. Could sophomore Cy Young candidate Jose Fernandez and a Marlins pitching staff that is developing faster than expected keep Miami in the wild card discussion in 2014? That question has yet to be answered, as the Marlins have had an up-and-down month of April. A 5-1 start gave way to an eight-game losing streak, but the team has won five of eight games since.
All baseball teams go through peaks and valleys, though. The real story about the Marlins is how successful the offense has been after an anemic 2013. Giancarlo Stanton looks like an MVP candidate in the early going with 27 RBI and a .284/.364/.568 line, while second-year outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are doing a great job hitting the ball hard and getting on base. Free agent acquisitions Casey McGehee and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have given the offense depth that it didn't have last year.
With exciting prospects on offense as well as on the pitching staff, there is something to be excited about in Miami even if the team doesn't make a surprise run in 2014. The next good Marlins team is a lot closer than it looked when management held a fire sale after the 2012 season. Perhaps, one day, the wholesale trading of veteran players will be viewed as a legitimate strategy? That's a story for another day.
Who are these guys?
Derek Dietrich was acquired in a trade with the Rays for Yunel Escobar after the latter was acquired in the 2012 blockbuster Miami/Toronto deal. Right now Dietrich is splitting time at second base for the Marlins, but he has the potential to be a full-time player. He's always shown a lot of pop for a middle infielder, slugging above .500 at Double-A in 2013 before being called up to the big club. Dietrich's bat looked powerful in the majors, too, as he hit nine homers in just 57 games last year. In 2014 so far, he hasn't been allowed to face fellow lefties, but a .314/.442/.629 line is nothing to sneeze at.
I suppose the Cubs thought that Casey McGehee was a Quadruple-A player when they waived him after the 2008 season. However, for the next two seasons with the Brewers, the Fresno State product proved to be a capable third baseman. In 2010, he hit .285/.337/.464 in a full MLB season with 23 homers and 104 RBI, but in 2011 things fell apart for McGehee. His BABIP fell 50 points and his power all but disappeared, encouraging Milwaukee to trade him away over the winter. After brief stops with Pittsburgh and the Yankees, McGehee played in Japan last season, where he was good enough to earn a contract with Miami. If he's able to get back some of the power he showed with Milwaukee, he'll be a nice cheap starter and possible trade chip for the Marlins.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Henderson Alvarez vs. Zack Wheeler
Alvarez is another player who joined the Marlins after that big trade with Toronto in 2012. He's a big ground ball pitcher who has started to look like a nice rotation asset since last September. In two of Alvarez's last four starts of the 2013 season he allowed zero runs, with the first coming in seven innings against the Mets on September 14 and the next being a no-hitter against the Tigers on September 29. This season, Alvarez looked pretty good in his first three starts before really dominating last Saturday against the Mariners. He allowed just two hits in a complete game shutout, and he's likely looking for a repeat performance against what is presently a light-hitting Mets squad.
Wheeler will also take the mound tonight looking for a big performance. He's been very good so far, but has lacked the type of start that shows up on highlight reels. Wheeler has allowed between two and four runs in every outing while maxing out at six strikeouts.
Saturday: Kevin Slowey vs. Jenrry Mejia
After working as a swingman for Miami last season, Slowey started 2014 out of the bullpen before being thrust into the rotation when Jacob Turner incurred a shoulder injury. As a fastball/slider pitcher with low strikeout and walk rates, he's not much to write home about. In his first start of the season, Slowey allowed two runs in five innings against the Mariners, and that's about as much as Miami should hope to get out of him. Unless Slowey is facing the Mets, that is. Last June he shutout the Amazins with eight strikeouts and zero walks in seven innings. In his April start versus the Mets, he was nearly as good, allowing just one run in eight innings. Hopefully Slowey's magic will wear off by Saturday night.
At least if Slowey is brilliant again, the Mets can count on Mejia to keep the game close. He's struck out 10 batters and walked five while allowing no earned runs in his past two starts.
Sunday: Tom Koehler vs. Dillon Gee
At first blush, Koehler appears to be a much improved pitcher from the one that posted a 4.41 ERA as a rookie in 2013. So far this season, the product of Stony Brook has allowed just six runs in 25.1 innings for a 2.13 ERA, but Koehler's walk rate so far is even higher than it was last year when he gave out 3.40 free passes per nine innings. A strand rate and BABIP that outperform league norms are helping him sustain such a low ERA, so hopefully the Mets can get to him on Sunday. That is easier said than done, as 2013 saw Koehler face the Mets four times and only allow a total of four earned runs. In his two most recent appearances against New York, he combined for 14 innings, zero runs allowed, 10 strikeouts, and five walks.
The 2014 season for Gee will do a lot towards determining his future with the Mets, especially considering all the young arms that are close to the majors. After a shaky start to the season, his last two outings have been encouraging, but it continues to look like Gee's 21-percent strikeout rate from 2012 is more mirage than potential. Throughout 2013 and at the beginning of this season, he's striking out fewer than 17 percent of batters faced.
Prediction: Mets coming off a series win over St. Louis? No Fernandez on the horizon? Sign me up for a sweep! And, now I'm bracing for disaster.
What about some GIFs?
Lately in the seems the Mets are infatuated with Daisuke Matsuzaka. A big part of that is the veteran's performance last September, when he showed off some nasty stuff.
In a marathon win over the Marlins on September 15, Travis d'Arnaud threw out a runner at third while falling over.
d'Arnaud also had a walk-off single in that game, and Eric Young Jr. could not have been more excited to congratulate the rookie.
Finally, who can forget Chad Qualls and his tumbling fist pump?