With their (assumed!) permission, I’m going to mash up a few of Wednesday afternoon’s tweets from my colleagues C.J. Nitkowski and Kevin Burkhardt:
It’s worth mentioning, just in case you missed it, that nobody’s saying the Marlins are good enough to win now. Which is smart, considering they were roundly figured as a fourth- or fifth-place team just a month ago and nobody goes from fourth to first in a month.
Then again, the Marlins do have the second-best run differential in the National League, which alone means we have to take them at least semi-seriously… and if we’re taking the Marlins semi-seriously, don’t we have to take the Rockies seriously? Because they don’t just have the league’s best run differential. They’ve got the league’s best run differential by a lot. The Rockies are +55, the Marlins +29 (the Athletics are +44 to lead the American League).
And just like the Marlins, one month ago the Rockies were supposed to finish fourth or fifth. Have things really changed this much?
Well, maybe. Jonah lives just a Tulo Tater away from Coors Field, and between that proximity and the altitude … Well, let’s take a look at both the sea-level Marlins and the mile-high Rockies and see if either club figures to be worth watching in September.
Let’s start where we started: Tom Koehler. Wednesday, he was great against the Mets. In his career, he’s got a 1.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 202 innings. He’s also 28, and I think it’s highly unlikely that his 1.99 ERA this season fairly represents his true abilities.
Jose Fernandez might have been the best pitcher in the National League whilst Clayton Kershaw was out of action.
Nathan Eovaldi is only 24 and throws a million miles an hour. I do wonder how he’s improved his strikeout rate by 33 percent and lowered his walk rate 200 percent, this season over last season. Usually such a wildly dramatic improvement is unsustainable; on the other hand, pitchers do occasionally make Great Leaps Forward. Did I mention he throws a million?
Henderson Alvarez is even more enigmatic than Eovaldi. Alvarez, you might recall, threw a no-hitter against the Tigers on the last day of last season. But what’s really odd about Alvarez is that he throws really hard, nearly as hard as Eovaldi, but isn’t a strikeout pitcher. Here’s a great piece about Alvarez if you want to know more (and really, who doesn’t?). While he throws real hard and doesn’t strike anybody out, he also doesn’t walk many, or give up home runs. That’s a perfectly reasonable combination.
It’s far too early to say the Marlins’ top three rank among the best trios in the league. It’s not too early to dream a little.
But at this point, it’s just those top three. Koehler’s fair at best, and the Marlins’ No. 5 slot’s been a disaster. The Marlins do have a couple of hot pitching prospects in Double-A, but it’s unfair to expect much of them in the majors this season. Essentially, the trio needs to pitch wonderfully all season …
… and they need better hitters, as Burktowski suggested. Because the most surprising thing about the Marlins isn’t their starting pitching. Not even close. The most surprising thing about the Marlins is that, after finishing last in scoring last season, then adding Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee to the roster, they’re now second in the league in scoring.
Yes, I know that Giancarlo Stanton is healthy and scaring baseballs again. But essentially every Miami regular has been an above-average hitter this season — yes, even Adeiny Hechavarria — which is just ridiculous. Well, unless you believe (as I do) in the power of Ordinary Baseball Weirdness. In which case it’s merely weird rather than ridiculous.
Either way, the Marlins aren’t at all likely to win without better hitters. Of course, the current hitters’ individual successes make it all that much harder to justify replacing them. Classic Catch-22. My guess is the Marlins hitters will regress hard over the next month or so, and by the time management realizes what just happened, it’ll be too late to convince Jeffrey Loria to give a damn. So while we may reasonably marvel at the Marlins’ fine statistics, I’m sticking with the Braves and (especially) the Nationals.
Meanwhile, the Rockies are destroying pitchers. Here are some batting averages, ordered by plate appearances this season:
I know batting averages are just batting averages. The Rockies also lead the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and it’s hardly all Coors Field. They’ve actually been great, though I hope you’ll forgive me for not completely trusting Blackmon and Barnes.
Do the Rockies need to keep destroying pitchers in order to make the playoffs? Probably, because there won’t be any Cy Young candidates among their own pitchers. Unless somebody like Jordan Lyles or — well, OK: Jordan Lyles — surprises the hell out of us. And I hope it’s not impolite to mention that the entire Rockies staff owns the lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio in the National League.
Does all this suggest the Rockies have been playing substantially over their heads?