First-half review: Marlins’ postseason hopes depend on quick turnaround

The return of Jose Fernandez could bolster the Marlins' rotation for the second half of the season.

David Santiago/AP

During spring training, the Miami Marlins spoke about aspiring to play games into October.

The offseason moves — acquiring second baseman Dee Gordon, first baseman Michael Morse, third baseman Martin Prado as well as right-handers Dan Haren and Mat Latos — were supposed to upgrade the roster and help the Marlins achieve this goal. Miami, after all, improved by 15 games from 2013-14. It had become an upward trend on the scale.

But the Marlins sit in fourth place in the National League East with the first half of the season over, below .500 for the sixth straight All-Star break. Miami (38-51) will in fact compete in October: The regular season doesn’t end until Oct. 4. If it hopes to join postseason contention talk, things must turn around — and fast.

"Frustrating — I think — for all of us," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. "We didn’t come in with any different expectation other than to play well and win ballgames and to put ourselves in a position to play into October. This year, offensively, we’ve been inconsistent. We’ve had to battle injuries and we’ve battled underperformance or non performance. That’s part of what has made this season thus far frustrating, but you look at it (and) we’re 11 games out in the division, 10 in the wild card. No one’s run away with our division. We still a number of games within our division. We still believe in the talent in that clubhouse. We will get healthy and we will win more games."

Manager Dan Jennings, who took over for Mike Redmond on May 18 despite no previous coaching experience in the collegiate, minor or major-league levels, agreed. The ballclub has underperformed amidst expectations. It has also been set back by various injuries.

"Stay healthy," Jennings said. "Give us an opportunity with the club we put together to be healthy and run out there and let’s see what happens. It’s a good club, but unfortunately injuries are part of the game. When we have our pitching staff at full tilt we have a chance every night to have guys go out there and put us in a position to win. We’ve had that a lot this first half, but you have a chance to run a streak. We’ve been on that roller coaster a little bit. We won five of six when (Giancarlo Stanton) went down. Then we go on the road and win one of five and play well enough to win but we don’t win. That’s part of the learning curve with some of our young players. But the second half if we can get healthy I think there’s a chance we can make a push here and make it into a legitimate way based on what we put together in the offseason.

"I don’t know there’s an explanation. Certainly losing your top three pitchers out of the rotation out of the gate that was tough. Then some of the injuries to Martin (Prado) and Giancarlo. You can’t blame injuries. We’ve underperformed in certain capacities that you need to perform in. You do that or don’t take advantage of your opportunities then the results are going to be the results. I’m sure there was somewhat of a culture shock amongst our players when we had the managerial change and understand it and I respect that. At the same time, when the bell rings every night you’ve got to go out and play. You can’t be, ‘I’m feeling sorry for myself’ or we were the cause of this and that. You have to go out there and perform knowing the other team’s coming to win. They’re not going to feel sorry for you."

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

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WHAT HAS GONE RIGHT

Jose Fernandez successfully returned from Tommy John surgery on July 2, earning the victory over the San Francisco Giants after a quality start and a solo homer sparked a rally. In his next outing, he became just the third pitcher since 1900 to win each of his first 14 decisions at home, per Elias.

Miami once again has its ace in the rotation with a good chance at winning each time he’s out there. During an underachieving season, Dee Gordon and Stanton both earned All-Star starts as voted by the fans. Gordon, acquired from the Dodgers this past offseason, leads the majors with 122 hits, ranks second with 33 stolen bases and fifth with a .338 average. Despite a hamate fracture, Stanton still paces the big leagues with 27 homers. At the time of the injury, his 67 RBI were most in baseball.

When Steve Cishek struggled to close out wins, setup man A.J. Ramos more than filled in, shutting down 14 of 15 save opportunities. David Phelps, an overlooked part of the Yankees deal, is 4-5 with a 3.86 ERA in 18 games. He has gone back-and-forth between the rotation and bullpen, admirably adjusting to the roles. Flamethrower Carter Capps always lit up a radar gun with pitches in the triple digits. Now, he throws them for strikes and utilizes a complementary slider.

WHAT HAS GONE WRONG

Where to begin?

Inclement weather forced a 16-minute rain delay on Opening Day at Marlins Park. Mind you, there’s a retractable roof that took 13 minutes to close and shield fans. Damp conditions spoiled Gordon’s bunt attempt later in the game, as he fell running out of the box.

Miami got into an early hole this season as nearly every player underachieved — far below his career average. Jarrod Saltalamcchia didn’t last a month before the Marlins designated him for assignment and handed starting duties to rookie J.T. Realmuto. Marcell Ozuna, owner of 23 home runs and 85 RBI last season, was shipped to Triple-A New Orleans on July 5 amidst a 1 for 37 slump. He was batting .249 with four homers and 26 RBI. Christian Yelich was hitting .227 as recently as June 26. Aside from Ramos, the trio of Cishek (2-6, 5.14 ERA), right-hander Bryan Morris (3-1, 3.24 ERA) and southpaw Mike Dunn (1-4, 4.34 ERA) have underachieved in the latter innings, costing Miami ballgames.

Then there are the multitude of injuries. It began in April when both utility player Don Kelly and backup catcher Jeff Mathis broke bones in the same game. By May, four starting pitchers — Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Latos and Jarred Cosart — were on the disabled list at the same time. Yelich hurt his back, tried playing through it and then spent time on the DL. Morris (back) missed a month. Prado (shoulder) and Morse (finger) missed substantial time. Stanton’s left wrist hamate fracture as well as Gordon’s left dislocated thumb a day before heading to the Midsummer Classic were the final straws.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

First baseman Justin Bour, acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the minor-league portion of the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, ranks second on the club with 10 homers. Bour has bounced back since a rough June (.138), batting .316 with four doubles, three dingers and 13 RBI in 11 games in July. Not only does Bour provide a power bat in the middle of the lineup, but his emergence has eased the blow of Morse’s struggles.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Unfortunately for the Marlins, there are many candidates for this distinction. Morse, who drove in two of the three runs in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, signed a two-year, free-agent deal with his hometown team. His postseason experience was supposed to help the ballclub during the dog days of summer contention. Instead, he was relegated to a bench role and missed more than a month with a right ring finger sprain. Morse, who has been manning left field with Ozuna in the minors and Stanton out, is hitting .201 with four doubles, three homers and 11 RBI in 44 games.

BEST MOMENT

A 94 mph fastball for a strike. It’s the moment both the Marlins and the "Jose Guy" waited for. Fernandez, who underwent Tommy John surgery on May 16, 2014, returned to the big-league mound on July 2 against the Giants. He earned the victory and knocked a homer. His successful comeback brings a special energy at the ballpark for #JoseDay. The same happens in Queens for New York Mets right-hander Matt Harvey,

BEST NEWCOMER

Second base was a revolving door in 2014. That’s why the Marlins made it a priority to find a controllable, steady presence at that position. They sought out Gordon, who made the All-Star team last season and catalyzes an offense at the top of the order. He made his second straight Midsummer Classic, garnering the starting nod by leading the big leagues with 122 hits, ranking second with 33 stolen bases and fifth with a .338 average. It has yet to determined how long the left dislocated thumb will keep the speedster out.

BEST RETURNER

Until undergoing surgery, Stanton once again — almost single-handedly — fueled the ballclub. At the time of his injury, he led the big leagues with 27 homers and 67 RBI in 74 games. The 25-year-old slugger was on pace to finish just shy of 60 long balls on the season. He got voted an All-Star starter for the first time in his career, earning his third selection overall. Stanton has lived up to being one of the face’s of baseball, appearing in commercials and magazine covers.

SECOND-HALF PROJECTION

It can’t get any worse, right? Fernandez is already back. Still set to return is Alvarez, who is sure to help provide a formidable 1-2 punch at the front of the rotation. Prado, Morse and Stanton back in the lineup — and fully healthy — will remedy the run-scoring woes, especially if Yelich continues to hit as he has since late June. The early-season bullpen trouble has been remedied with the duo of Capps and Ramos. When Latos and Haren — both year rentals — get dealt, rookies Jose Urena, Justin Nicolino and Adam Conley can gain more experience in the big leagues.

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