Miami Marlins 2014 midseason review

Much of the happiness on the Miami Marlins this season can be traced to the hitting production of Giancarlo Stanton.

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MIAMI — Things are much different for the Miami Marlins one game past the halfway point of the 2014 season than they were a year ago en route to 100 losses.

Still, as June becomes July, Miami (39-43) hopes to rebound from a rough month in which the club won four of the first five games only to finish with an 11-16 record.

The Marlins are four games below .500 for the first time since April 16 and five games back of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They were four games above .500 and a game up in the division after a four-game winning streak the first week of June.

"I think we had a really good first two months," manager Mike Redmond said. "We swung the bats great, tried to work out some bullpen issues and it seems like this month our bullpen has pitched really well and eaten up a lot of innings but our offense hasn’t hit as well as it did the first two months."

Until June, the Marlins held the best home record and garnered national attention as one of the top surprises in baseball.

Slugger Giancarlo Stanton is having an MVP caliber season, leading the NL in home runs and RBI. He will compete in the Home Run Derby and should garner an invitation to All-Star Game as well. Casey McGehee will attract Comeback Player of the Year honors after returning from Japan and becoming a clutch RBI machine.

But reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez was lost to Tommy John surgery in mid-May, leaving a void in a young but talented rotation.

"We’ve lost so many games on little mental errors and baserunning errors or defensive errors," Stanton said. "Not errors specifically, but miscues. Got to be more locked in on certain things and understand the games against really good teams like Oakland we can’t afford those kinds of mistakes. They’ll capitalize every time."

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Redmond and the club are confident that consistency and healthy players can help turn the tide. Outfielder Christian Yelich missed 15 days with a lower back sprain. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had to recover from a concussion. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is currently nursing a right triceps strain.

During Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Athletics, right-handed reliever Chris Hatcher threw a scoreless frame to help out a taxed bullpen. Two days earlier he tossed 44 pitches in a 14-inning defeat in Philadelphia. He also warmed up on Saturday.

Starter Tom Koehler told Redmond he could go two innings on his bullpen day should he need him. Koehler could be seen warming up just in case.

"As a manager that’s what you want," Redmond said. "You want guys who want to step up and help the team to win ballgames. Guys are willing to do whatever it takes. That’s what we’re talking about, that’s what we’re trying to build here and that’s going to pay off for us down the road."

Here’s a review of the Marlins’ first half:

WHAT’S GONE RIGHT

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Stanton has appeared in all 82 games this season after missing 85 over the previous two seasons. Thanks to his health and protection from McGehee, Stanton has paced the NL in both homers and RBI since the beginning of the season.

A year after setting records for offensive futility, the Marlins are near the top of the NL in various statistics such as runs (fourth), average (sixth) and homers (sixth). Offseason acquisitions Saltalamacchia and Garrett Jones have added stability at a pair of positions that lacked it in 2013.

With Fernandez out, right-hander Henderson Alvarez has all but assumed the ace role. The club has won eight straight games he has started. For the season, he is 5-3 with a 2.32 ERA, fourth-lowest in the NL. Alvarez leads the majors with three complete game shutouts.

WHAT’S GONE WRONG

In the midst of their season-long road trip, the Marlins lost Fernandez to Tommy John surgery. They are still trying to find ways to eat up innings that the 21-year-old would’ve otherwise piled up and dominated. Miami’s starters rank 12th in the NL with a 4.05 ERA. Last season, the staff set a franchise record with a 3.71 ERA. Righty Jacob Turner has been relegated to the bullpen in favor of top prospect Andrew Heaney.

When the offense was firing on all cylinders and the starting rotation consistently put together quality starts during the early part of the season, the bullpen struggled to lock down leads in the latter innings, particularly the eighth. It has given up 41 runs, which is the seventh most allowed across both leagues. Righty Carlos Marmol was eventually designated for assignment. Setup men A.J. Ramos and Mike Dunn have had their ups and downs. Miami signed former closer Kevin Gregg, who wasn’t with a team in spring training or at the start of the year, as insurance.

To top it all off, the anticipated Opening Day roster has yet — and may never — play together. Rafael Furcal, who signed a one-year deal over the offseason to be the club’s second baseman, was on the 60-day DL with various leg injuries. He lasted just nine games in the majors before re-aggravating his hammy last week.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Despite the positive mindset from the organization entering spring training, nobody expected the Marlins to compete in the division. So what did Miami do? Win five of its first six. An eight-game losing skid negated that start, but the Marlins bounced back and led the division as late as June 5.

Keep in mind this is the same club that lost 100 games for just the second time in franchise history in 2013. Miami didn’t collect its 39th win until July 26 last year.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

The Miami Marlins not only had a bonafide ace in Fernandez but also a new face of their franchise. Fernandez made just eight starts in 2014 after earning National League Rookie of the Year and becoming a Cy Young finalist in 2013. His right elbow acted up during the club’s West Coast trip and forced him to have Tommy John surgery in mid-May.

BEST MOMENT

There have been quite a few for the Marlins, from Stanton’s walk-off grand slam April 18 against the Seattle Mariners to Alvarez’s 88-pitch complete game shutout on June 3.

Nothing can quite match Marcell Ozuna’s outfield assists to secure a win June 20 against the New York Mets. Ozuna threw out the tying run in the eighth and did it again in the ninth when Chris Young’s fly ball to left looked deep enough to easily score Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Instead, Ozuna raced behind the ball, sped up to get under it and sent a rocket home for the final out and victory.

BEST NEWCOMER

This is an easy one. McGehee, who spent last year playing in Japan after his career in the majors dissolved, has locked down the cleanup spot behind Stanton. For most of the season he has led all NL third basemen in average, RBI and fielding percentage. His ability to produce in clutch situations — a major-league best .391 clip with runners in scoring position — fueled the nickname #HitsMcGehee.

BEST RETURNER

Giancarlo Stanton — This one is also easy. Imagine how many losses the Marlins would have without Stanton’s bat in the lineup every day. His presence alone sets up better pitches for guys like McGehee, Jones and Saltalamacchia to see. He has two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown. Oh, and he’s stayed healthy (knocks on wood for the betterment of Major League Baseball).

SECOND-HALF PROJECTION

Has June been a chance for things to level out for a club over performing in the eyes of many? Perhaps. Can the Marlins right the ship and prevail as one of baseball’s best surprises? Only time will tell, but if that’s to be the case, the starting rotation must do a better job of getting deep into games and avoiding early deficits. It seems the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves are finally poised to make it a two-team race for the division, so the Marlins must continue to stay within striking distance. Expect Miami to flirt with .500 and turn heads after the rapid turnaround from last season’s forgettable result.

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.