Who would have thought on Opening Day that by the middle of June Ichiro Suzuki would have a legitimate case to be starting in Miami's outfield over Giancarlo Stanton?
Probably not many. Yet, that it what has happened.
On a 3-for-4 night in San Diego where he showcased all of his talents, Ichiro raised his batting average to .350 on the season. On the other hand, Stanton's average sits at a miserable .192, with no signs of improvement any time soon.
Although the Marlins are saying that they are not concerned by Stanton's slump, they must be, given the fact that the most expensive player in baseball has been the worst hitter in the league over the past month.
How have your last 30 days gone? Better, presumably, than Giancarlo Stanton's: pic.twitter.com/poRFBPtrIZ— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) June 13, 2016
Now, Stanton is bound to break out of his slump sooner or later, but he is currently hurting the team and needs to build up his confidence again. A stint in the minor leagues would probably help, but it would be doubtful that he would accept the assignment (he would have a say as he has accrued more than five years of major league experience).
What is making this issue more complex is the stellar play of the 42 year-old Ichiro. Last season, the future Hall of Famer played like a 41 year-old (no offence to our older readers), but this year he has rolled back the clock and is contributing on a regular basis, in all manner of situations for the Marlins.
It's simple then, right? The Marlins should play Stanton off the bench until he regains his confidence and start Ichiro in right field while he is still hot?
Unfortunately, it's not that straight forward.
First of all, Ichiro's poor second half of 2015 could be attributed to the fatigue associated with playing nearly every day. That was almost a year ago, so the effects of a 162 game season will, presumably, have more of an impact on his body this year. Second, being used as a pinch-hitter probably won't improve Stanton's confidence considering that he was playing at an MVP level before getting injured last season.
While the Marlins have still been able to produce offence without Stanton (19 hits and 13 runs without your best hitter is fairly impressive), they need him to be at his best down the stretch if they want want to make a serious push for the playoffs.
Ichiro can hold down the position for now, but that won't last for the rest of the season. Stanton needs his confidence back, and that won't happen by continuing to struggle and then dwelling on it while being 'rested' during the next game.
If Stanton went back to the minors, it would send shock waves around the league. It would undoubtedly be embarrassing for him, but if that is the best way for Stanton to find his swing again, then it has to be done.