The Miami Marlins lost their primary reason to keep eyes on the club when Giancarlo Stanton went down with an unfortunate hand injury. Stanton will require surgery to fix his hamate bone after seemingly gripping the bat too hard, as one might expect from the mighty Bigfoot. Still, as unsurprising a mechanic as this injury may have had, it is still a frustrating tack-on to an already terrible 2015 season for the Fish. This year came with high expectations, but with Stanton out at least one month, things have continued to get worse.
Do not fret, Marlins fans. While there are fewer reasons than ever before to keep an eye on the Fish, there are still things I want to see for the next four to six weeks before the home run show returns to action. Here are the things I will be watching for on the Miami Marlins.
1. Jose Fernandez's return
This is the most obvious thing to keep an eye on. Fernandez's return is slated for this Thursday, and with Stanton injured, it could not come at a better time in terms of team interest. The 2013 Rookie of the Year and staff ace comes back this week against the San Francisco Giants, and presumably he will take on a new team every fifth game as he was destined to do for Miami. The repercussions of a return are many; Fernandez is making his return only 13 and a half months after the initial injury and subsequent surgery, and with the Marlins so far out of the race, one could question whether a return at all is justified.
However, Fernandez does need to work and pitch against prime competition, and if the doctors approved this schedule, it would probably be better that he pitches rather than take an extra-long layoff. In addition, Marlins fans really do need his presence to assist in what could be a rough month of difficult-to-watch contests. Fernandez coming up every fifth day provides must-see television again. Will he return to full form from his dominant run to start his career? Will there be bumps along the way? Can Fernandez's curveball put the fear of God in batters still after nearly 14 months out of Major League action?
These are all important questions above and beyond Fernandez's pure joy and entertainment value. Marlins fans need to see that smile.
2. The Dee Gordon experience
Everyone got swept up in Flash Fever when Gordon came out red-hot to begin the year. After hitting .409/.418/.484 (.391 wOBA) to start the year in April, Gordon has come back down to Earth fairly quickly. Since April, he has hit .332/.355/.400 (.329 wOBA). That is still a decent batting line, but Gordon has essentially poorly since the end of his one month-plus hot streak. By mid-May, he began hitting like his 2013 self rather than the decent player from 2014 and early 2015.
Gordon is still having the same issues he had back in Los Angeles. He has not walked once this entire month, while his strikeouts remain at a high level for a no-power player. The question now is where the Dee Gordon experience take us next. We have had two odd 1.5-month splits of performance, so where will the next span go from here? Is Gordon going to heat up again and take off, or will he regress back to his previous, flawed self? This is worth watching.
3. The young outfield bounce back
We are still patiently waiting for when Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna will return to "best outfield in baseball" form. While Stanton tore up pitchers with his bat, the other two young Marlins outfielders struggled to make any impact. Yelich's back injury may or may not have thrown a monkey wrench into his entire plan, as his plate approach is drastically different than his prior career marks and he is hitting balls more softly than ever before. Ozuna has maintained his usual approach, but like in his rookie 2013 season, that approach is not leading to any power. Ozuna has hit just one home run all month and four for the season, the same number as Adeiny Hechavarria.
These two players are obviously too talented to continue hitting like this, but doubts are definitely present. Ozuna has spent 600 plate appearances in two separate seasons hitting like a slap-hitting infielder, while Yelich is putting more and more balls on the ground and hitting with less authority than ever. Neither player can afford to continue batting like this; Yelich has a nice underpaid contract, but Ozuna may have declined a similar extension to bet on his better play and is now facing the consequences. For Yelich, Miami wants to see him make good on their investment. The team's future definitely depends on these two players, so their progress will be important to track this month.
4. The trade deadline decision
The Marlins are apparently now thinking about selling since the Stanton injury. This is almost assuredly the right call after the team has already dug itself too much of a hole. The question now is which pieces should be dealt in the next month while Stanton recovers from surgery. The Marlins are almost assuredly going to consider trading Mat Latos and Dan Haren at this point, since neither factor into their 2016 plans. When they pull the trigger is pretty important; Latos's fastball velocity continues to be high after his DL stint, while Haren continues to defy his peripherals as of right now. Either performance could continue or fall apart shortly, so it may be most prudent to get one or both players going as soon as possible.
The question then turns to whom the Marlins would consider dealing among players not in their final contract year. Would Martin Prado, who is signed until 2016, be an option? Could the team opt to send one of their other starters like Brad Hand, David Phelps, or Tom Koehler? How much can the Fish get back in the next month for their meager trade assets? These are things to watch the Miami Marlins for in the coming month with Giancarlo Stanton recuperating for an amazing August and September,