What a strong finish means for Marlins
ST. PETERSBURG — Nothing goes unnoticed over 162 games, which is why you evaluate the entire season — not cherry pick parts or select sample sizes along the way. It’s about the entire body of work.
The Marlins are evaluating that way, which is why they’re paying as close attention to the final month as they did the first or any other one. So September games indeed are meaningful.
Unfortunately for Miami, it has taken until September — we can back it up to Aug. 31 — for them to play their best ball. The Marlins are 16-8 in September, already their winningest month. They’re 17-8 since Aug. 31.
Everyone can make of it what they want. But this stretch is helping to determine the direction for where the offseason is headed.
At least one National League East manager sees something brewing in Miami.
“They have a pretty good lineup over there,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I think when the big boy comes back — and Hechavarria didn’t even play — they’re a very formidable team going into next year.”
Gonzalez’s Braves were swept over the weekend at Marlins Park. And yes, Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t played since June 26. And shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria, has been out since Sept. 2.
We can safely say this, what the Marlins are showing is they weren’t as bad as they appeared for five months. They had some bad luck. But more telling is they had a bad mix.
Not all the new pieces fit. That happens. It didn’t work. Those who were moved out in late July, it was time for them to go.
The culture around the club was negative. It pretty much was that way from Opening Day. Everything was a distraction early on, and there was high drama. Constant drama.
Some argue chemistry doesn’t matter. Well, it does. At least it did to the Marlins. You literally had players — pretty much all of them — dreading being at the ballpark. You can’t win that way.
Dismissing a popular manager like Mike Redmond on May 17 didn’t make things easier. Dan Jennings was put in a tough spot because he had no previous managing or coaching experience at the professional level. What Jennings has been throughout is upbeat and supportive of the players. He has their backs, and they know it.
The players responded in the final weeks, not giving up on their manager or a situation that would have been easy to mail it in. For almost five months, it appeared the Marlins had a much better chance of finishing with the worst overall record than securing third place in the National League East. But they did.
Why the turnaround?
Basically, the players united together. They were tired of losing. Tired of the internal bickering. It wasn’t getting them anywhere. So they responded by staying loose, having fun, and the wins followed. They started showing what they could have been all along.
Martin Prado has become the unofficial captain, a title he isn’t totally comfortable with. Prado prefers being low key, yet doing his thing. Jeff Mathis’ impact on the roster can’t be understated. The players want Mathis, soon to be a free agent, back. Prado and Mathis are regarded as a good a teammates as any Marlins player has ever had. Without them, this final month may have looked like the previous five.
The front office will be mindful of Mathis’ impact when they decide what to do about backup catcher. They need to think this through if they move in another direction.
And let’s make things clear. Just because Miami is doing well in September doesn’t automatically mean this team is ready to contend in 2016. There is plenty of work to be done to fill in holes. They will search for a couple of starting pitchers and explore the market for closer candidates. They need depth.
They also need a belief that as soon as they face some adversity that players won’t be shipped out.
What September seems to have done is show the front office they need to add rather than blow the roster up — yet again, and go through another fire sale.
The team also would be wise to listen to what Prado has to say, because the veteran has a pretty good read on the situation. Prado isn’t looking at September as a players making a statement for 2016. What happens next will be up to the front office.
“Those decisions, I don’t get into that,” Prado said. “I let those guys make their call, whatever they want to do for next year.”
Still, Prado knows the Marlins weren’t at full strength all year. You can’t be without a Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Fernandez as long as they were and still expect to contend.
“If my teammates stay healthy the whole year, we can do something special,” Prado said. “We’ve got to make it happen. Be quiet. Be a sleeper team and just play. Play 162 games and see what happens.”
Miami’s unofficial captain has spoken.
— Joe Frisaro