Marlins' turnaround a sight to behold
Young superstars, hard-throwing rotation a result of savvy front office
The Marlins are a joy to watch, and that's where this sweet story begins. Day by day, as they grind out one close victory after another, confidence builds. Here's to the rebirth of a franchise.
There may not be any such thing as a perfect roster, but Miami would be in the conversation. First, there are the two superstars. Yes, the Marlins have two of them, and how many franchises can say that? And they're both still young guys, both potentially leading the franchise for years to come.
One is 24-year-old right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who leads the National League in home runs (10) and RBIs (38). To watch how well he does everything is one of the pleasures of a baseball season.
And there's right-hander Jose Fernandez. He's 21 years old and just over a year removed from his big league debut. In 35 career starts, Fernandez is the living, breathing definition of greatness, having compiled a 2.09 ERA and 252 strikeouts in 219 innings.
Fernandez is also one of the game's special personalities, an excitable, fiery kid who has that rare mixture of humility off the field and absolute confidence on it. He's having so much fun and performing at such a high level that he has helped redefine how people see the Marlins.
There's an assortment of other young talent, from all those starting pitchers to 22-year-old left fielder Christian Yelich and 23-year-old center fielder Marcell Ozuna.
Still, roster building is more an art than a science. In general manager Dan Jennings' first offseason on the job, he made a series of smart, low-cost acquisitions that have paid dividends during this 19-15 start. Mixing an assortment of veterans -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jeff Baker, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee -- with the young guys has helped create the right clubhouse environment.
Jennings appreciated that his predecessor, Larry Beinfest, did a nice job acquiring talent. He also understood that those kids needed some experience around them, some guys to show them the way in terms of professionalism, preparation and riding out the highs and lows of a long season.
Maybe that strategy helped the Marlins survive a 5-9 start that included an eight-game losing streak in which they were outscored 50-22. Manager Mike Redmond deserves a world of credit, too, for keeping his guys going hard and focused on the big picture.
Miami has won 14 of 20 since that skid. In the past 16 games, the club has played seven one-run games and won six of them, including Wednesday afternoon's 1-0 victory over the Mets.
The Marlins are 17-5 at home, including an 8-1 homestand that ended Wednesday afternoon. Now Miami takes a 2-10 road record on a West Coast swing through San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Marlins' home-road splits are so dramatic that at least one team -- that would be the Braves -- wondered if they might be stealing signs or engaging in some other kind of skullduggery during last week's three-game sweep. To that, Redmond responded, "Come on, give us some credit for playing well."
Also, let's give them some credit for having a darn good baseball team and a deep Minor League system that could sustain them through the dog days ahead. In a wildly competitive NL East, Miami left the ballpark on Wednesday in a virtual tie for first with Atlanta.
Back to that nice roster. As you've probably heard, the Marlins have made a few trades in recent years. Some of them were controversial, since they showed the door to some splendid talent -- Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez and others.
All those trades look different today than they did when they were made. Trades are funny like that. Sometimes, they make sense for both clubs even when it doesn't seem obvious at the time.
In making those deals, the Marlins did a solid job getting talent in return. So when you see that Miami's rotation is the hardest-throwing group in baseball (94 mph), remember that two of those starters -- Nathan Eovaldi (Dodgers) and Henderson Alvarez (Blue Jays) -- came in those trades.
Two others, Fernandez and Tom Koehler, are products of a Minor League system that looks a lot better today than it did, say, a year ago.
The Marlins were 10-24 after 34 games last season, and turnarounds like that don't happen without some surprises. That's what Koehler represents. He was an 18th-round Draft pick who spent all or part of six seasons in the Minor Leagues. Looking back on it, Koehler's breakthrough was that Miami was so thin last season that it was able to let him make 23 starts in 2013. That's on-the-job training.
Koehler got hit hard at times, but along the way, he polished all his pitches, gained better command of the strike zone and simply grew up some. On Wednesday, he pitched eight shutout innings against the Mets and lowered his ERA to 1.99.
In Fernandez, Eovaldi, Alvarez and Koehler, Miami has a front four that has the potential to make it an interesting baseball summer in South Florida. And with Stanton in the middle of a lineup that's second in the NL in runs, the Marlins have a completely different look and feel.
They're also having the time of their lives. That's pretty clear by watching them. Onward, fellas.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.