The Miami Marlins didn't think they could win without Jose Fernandez. However, they have a significant amount of starting pitching depth and have been able to remain competitive. But the Marlins cannot win without Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton has emerged as one baseball's stars, one of baseball's best right fielders and the leader on what started as a very young team. He has helped a youthful core grow, and when nobody has been able to step up, has been able to do so.
Stanton is still in his prime, and was expected to be in the conversation for the National League Most Valuable Player award at the end of the season. He was batting .298/.395/.555 with 37 home runs and 105 RBIs before Mike Fiers hit him with a fastball that will likely end his season.
2014 was supposed to be about improving for the Miami Marlins. And they have been able to do more than improve. Coming off of a 62-100 season, the Marlins on Sunday afternoon won their 72nd game of the season. And there are still three weeks worth of baseball to be played.
Fernandez anchored the Marlins' pitching staff, and in a similar way, Stanton has carried the Marlins' lineup. Stanton's presence has led to Casey McGehee having a stable year after returning to the United States. Stanton's bat has allowed Marcell Ozuna's, Christian Yelich's, and even Adeiny Hechavarria's offensive mindset to grow. And Stanton's leadership and potential have, until the day until he was carted off the field, allowed the Marlins to feel as if they were always in ballgames, regardless of the score.
Stanton has been the Marlins' best player in 2014. The numbers speak for themselves. But the way he can influence a 25-man roster will be made clear over the next few weeks.
After Stanton went down in Milwaukee, the Marlins dropped two of three to the Phillies. If not for a four run ninth inning against Jonathan Papelbon on Sunday afternoon, they would have been swept. Stanton's presence, his power, and his composure have made many forget the Marlins are still a very youthful team. They still have one of the youngest roster's in all of baseball, one that has improved but whose faults have been hidden by late comebacks and walkoff victories.
Henderson Alvarez, Brad Hand, Jarred Cosart (after he was acquired) and even Tom Koehler have carried Miami's starting rotation. Now, Reed Johnson, Ed Lucas, and whoever else is slotted into the lineup to play right field will have to play well too.
A lot of the discussion surrounding the MVP conversation was based on a simple question: if Giancarlo Stanton and Clayton Kershaw are taken off of their teams' respective rosters, which absence would have a greater effect on the team's performance?
Kershaw has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, and bearing a setback in his last few starts, will go down as a more than valuable member of the Dodgers' staff. But now, we get to see the Marlins without Stanton. We get to see how much just his name on the lineup card can influence decision making and how much his offensive and defensive capabilities can change a game.
The Marlins have a talented roster. And it will only get better with time. Perhaps Stanton's injury and the way Miami plays without him will create a sense of urgency within the organization and encourage a long-term deal to get done this offseason.
This is not another Jose Fernandez-type situation. The Marlins, with their chances at a playoff spot becoming more slim with every loss, don't have a lot of other options. The Miami Marlins cannot win consistently without Giancarlo Stanton. And that will likely be made clear between now and the end of the month.