The past 11 years have not been the greatest of times for Marlins fans or the organization. The team has been characterized by fire sales, bad teams, and low attendance totals. Unfortunately those characteristics were thrown at the organization as jokes and the team was viewed as a punchline. The fans have had to put up with all of this.
Up until a few years ago, after the team abandoned its new 'all-in' approach and gave away almost all of its current major league talent, people in the media bashed the Marlins organization and rightfully so. As a fan base, it was not as much of a shock because unfortunately Marlins fans have grown used to that. It looked like this team, under this owner, would never have a consistently competing ball club.
Oh how the times have changed just three seasons later.
After developing its young core in the past two seasons, the Marlins took the next step forward this offseason by re-signing their superstar, Giancarlo Stanton, to a mega-deal. They then upgraded the infield by brining in Dee Gordon, Mike Morse, and Martin Prado, as well as upgrading the pitching staff with the additions of Matt Latos and Dan Haren. Finally, they signed Ichiro to be their fourth outfielder and super-sub. Those moves gained notoriety around the league and have put the Marlins back on the map.
It's March Madness season, and every year the tournament proves the same thing over and over: everyone loves an underdog. The Marlins have had quite the offseason, but they are not entering this season as a top favorite to win the World Series, the pennant, their division, or even to make the playoffs. But the Marlins are expected to at least improve upon last season and come close to making the playoffs, as their over/under win total is set at 82 and a half. All the ingredients for an underdog.
So as Spring Training has come along, the Marlins have had a few notable baseball people join their bandwagon. First there was ESPN's Buster Olney:
Right now, leaning toward picking for the NL playoffs: Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers division winners, Cardinals, Marlins wildcard teams.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 1, 2015
Then Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote a piece about the five reasons why the Marlins could make a run at the postseason.
Finally, the most serious Marlins bandwagoner joined yesterday in Michael Baumann of Grantland. Baumann wrote a column about how the Marlins are his bold choice to win the (wait for it) World Series this season. Here is what Baumann had to say:
The Marlins were better last year than most people gave them credit for, and they've fixed the deficiencies that sank them in 2014. They won't be the 2001 Mariners, but they'll be competitive. And once a team has reached that plateau, it's more palatable, for me at least, to use a prediction to make a statement: I'm onboard with Fernandez and Yelich and TMGS, and I want to see what those guys can do in October. And I'm sick of playing the odds and predicting yet another Cardinals or Giants vs. Red Sox or Tigers World Series and being wrong anyway. Predictions in baseball are almost always wrong, and if I'm going to be wrong, I want to be wrong with panache this time. Orange road jersey wrong. Dinger machine wrong.
The Miami Marlins are going to win the 2015 World Series.
What's most important to Marlins fans is that there seems to be a clear, legitimate plan in place for the first time in a long time. As I wrote last week, Marlins fans have serious trust issues with Jeffry Loria, but this offseason was a step in the right direction. Even as of last week Loria and the franchise took another step forward by locking up Christian Yelich to a long-term deal. For a change there is actually a positive vibe around this ball club.
As for on the field, who knows what will happen to this Marlins team. They could win the wild-card and make a run through the playoffs or they win 80 games and miss out on the playoffs. I think most Marlins fans, including me, expectations for this season are to see development and progression from the core players, and as a team, and continued support from the front office. An 83-win season while missing out on the playoffs would not be the end of the world, but rather another step towards being a legitimate playoff contender next season.
But what's great about this team is that there is no real expectations or pressure. Even though some baseball guys have picked them to make the playoffs, there is no spotlight on them to run the table in the NL East and win the World Series. This is just a young, talented team that is looking to grow and be able to compete for a long time.
That's why people are hopping on the bandwagon. The Marlins aren't clear cut favorites, but people would not be completely shocked if they won 88 games and made some noise in October. The pieces for a playoff team are there, as the Marlins have a nice mix of a superstars, young players on the rise, and proven veterans. But now it is about if everyone can put it together and have the perfect season.
April 6th can not come soon enough.