The Miami Marlins are embarking on a 2013 season that is destined to be wrought with troubles, hardships, and poor play. But as Marlins fans, we cannot simply ignore our favorite team, even with the presence of Jeffrey Loria looming large over the franchise. The 2013 season may be difficult, but it should hold a number of reasons to watch the Marlins, so let's try and guess what will happen this year with a few bold predictions.
1. Giancarlo Stanton will stay healthy all year and hit 47 home runs, pacing everyone by at least 10 homers.
We already discussed Stanton and the 2013 home run race, and he is expected to win the race handily as the only player most likely to hit more than 40 home runs. But I am going to take it a step further and say that Stanton will hit 47 home runs this season. The projection systems have him hitting about 42 home runs on average, so this is not a large stretch, but it is still a difficult task to achieve. Since 2009, only two players have even reached the 47-homer mark in a single season, and they were Jose Bautista (54 in 2010) and Albert Pujols (47 in 2009). There have only been 15 40-homer seasons since that 2009 season, and given the way the scoring environment seems to have fallen permanently since 2010, I doubt that players will easily reach that plateau in future seasons.
But Giancarlo Stanton is no normal human player. Giancarlo Stanton is a machine built to hit home runs and nothing else. Naturally, for him, it should be easy to reach that 40-homer mark for the first time in his career. Last year, he hit 37 home runs while playing only 123 games. And even though the Marlins are significantly worse surrounding him this season, that should not affect him much. Last year, a number of inferior hitters followed Stanton in the lineup and he still shattered the home run pace of other hitters, and even with mostly blanks surrounding him this year (Placido Polanco is batting cleanup for the Marlins!), he should still come close to his career pace of one homer per 16 plate appearances.
In that career pace, if he has 640 plate appearances, he should reach 40 homers. If there is someone I would bet on to improve, it is the freakish Stanton more than anyone else in the lineup.
2. This is Logan Morrison's last season as a Marlin, and he will only have 300 plate appearances.
The fact that Morrison is now out until at least mid-May and has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list as a result is more than enough cause for concern for Marlins fans. When on the field, Morrison is a solid first baseman defensively and can still hit for both power and patience, though perhaps not both at the same time. But none of that is relevant when he cannot stay on the field, and if he has another struggle of a year with injuries, you can more than be certain that the Marlins will clear him from the payroll before 2014. Morrison will be yet another failed first baseman for a team that has not found stability at the position since 2005.
3. Ricky Nolasco will survive the season with the Miami Marlins.
It seems like a highly improbable situation. Nolasco is the final vestige of an ultimately ineffective 2006 era of the organization, and he was previously rumored to have wanted out in the offseason. The Marlins are going nowhere in 2013, Nolasco is on his way out at the end of the year, and there is seemingly no reason both parties should want to stick together for the year. There is certainly no logical reason for Nolasco to remain here past July, but the team's absolute resistance to trading him in the offseason may hint towards the fact that, despite all of his baffling play, the team likes Nolasco. It may even like him enough to hold onto him, especially if there is a side benefit of keeping Stanton a little happier for the rest of the year.
So despite no reason for both sides not to part, I suspect we will end the year with Nolasco winning another ten games for the sixth straight year for the Marlins.
4. Justin Ruggiano will be a three-win player.
I predict that Justin Ruggiano is the real deal, or at least enough of a real deal to be a very good contributor for the Marlins in 2013. I believe that last season was too strong and too extended to be a complete fluke for Ruggiano, who was just another Quad-A player before 2012. Sure, he will not bat .400 on balls in play, and he probably will not rack up home runs at the pace that he did last season. But Ruggiano showed real skills last season. He showed that he could take a walk here and there, and he showed that he can hit for power enough to make up somewhat for his bad contact rates. He showed that he is an adequate defender in center field and could fit even better if he eventually moved to the corner.
Ruggiano is projected to pick up about 2.2 wins this season, but I will boldly predict that he too will get a full season's worth of playing time, beat back any contenders for his spot in the lineup, and provide good value for the Marlins as he heads into his first major payday of his career.
5. The Marlins will win closer to 80 games than 60.
In other words, I am predicting that the Marlins will win more than 70 games in 2013. For many teams, that seems like an automatic given, but for the Marlins in 2013, it is as least a legitimate question. The over/under line on the Marlins, according to Bovada, is at 63.5 wins, second-lowest only to the Houston Astros. I say the Marlins easily surpass that mark and hit at least 71 wins this season.
In our previous Marlins season projections, I predicted the Marlins would win between 68 and 74 wins based on their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) totals, and so it is not a terrible stretch to take the average of those numbers and guess around 71 wins for the year. Then again, the Marlins could easily miss those projections and play as bad as all of the outsiders and Vegas predicted. But if I were you and I was putting money down, I would bet the over on that 63.5 wins, and my guess is that the final tally will be more pleasant (but still bad) than any Marlins fan could have expected.