The tide has turned in the NL East. Just a few seasons ago, the Braves and the Phillies were the superpowers of the division. Turn the calendar to 2015 though and both clubs are rebuilding and expected to be left in the dust of the Nationals, Marlins and Mets. Washington is now the team to beat with that five-deep rotation that could challenge the Phillies' rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels from a few years back for one of the best rotations ever.
Then there are the Marlins, who are on the rise and have high expectations for the upcoming season. The club has its sights set on a wild card berth, but they will need around 88 wins to get there. The task is hard enough before considering that the team will be without injured ace Jose Fernandez until around mid-season. It is vital for the team's playoff chances to be at or above .500 when Fernandez returns from Tommy John surgery. Otherwise, there may be too much ground to make up in too short of a time.
A quick start is therefore necessary to not only build confidence in a young squad, but also to set the tone for the rest of the season as well. This is certainly possible given that the Fish have a relatively light schedule in April. With a combined nine games against the rebuilding Braves and Phillies, three games against the average Rays and seven games against the (possibly over) confident Mets, the Marlins have a strong platform to build a winning record upon.
Miami had a notably fast start in 2009 when it burst out of the gates with an 11-1 record. That mark is a franchise record. While that is clearly an extreme example of a good start, the Fish have the opportunity to put up some impressive numbers this month. Aside from the three games against the Nationals in Miami, every series is winnable. Now nothing in sports is ever easy, but the Marlins have shown in spring training that they have the talent to compete with the best. On paper, the Marlins are better than the Braves, Rays, Phillies and arguably, the Mets too.
The key for any team to be successful is beating the teams they are meant to beat. There is nothing more agonizing than seeing a team beat the best, and then lose to the worst. A team has to consistently play to its full potential, not to the level of the opposition (*cough* Miami Dolphins). This Marlins team, with the talent that has been added, should be able to play consistently at a high level. If March was anything to go by, then Dee Gordon and Michael Morse will be invaluable to the club. As predicted, Gordon is tearing up the basepaths, collecting plenty of hits and scoring runs. Morse is already challenging Giancarlo Stanton for his home run crown from the cleanup spot and collecting RBI after RBI along the way. This balanced and dynamic lineup has a chance to be special.
The Miami Marlins are in the the playoff conversation and they have all the parts they need (especially when Jose Fernandez is healthy) to contend. All they have to do now is play. Another 33-43 season against the division rivals will not cut it; the Marlins have to be better. They have an opportunity with a favorable schedule, which includes 19 games against the NL East in April, to start strong. The World Series isn't won in April, but it can be easily lost. This team can and should hang in there without Fernandez until midseason, and a good April will make things a whole lot easier for them to do so. The baseball community may well look back on April as the start of a great year for Miami.
To reach the postseason, the Fish have to assert their dominance over the NL East teams not based in DC, and it has to start on April 6th at 4:10ET.
Predicted record as of May 1st: 13-9