The Miami Marlins are due for an interesting second half of the season. Somehow, despite a bad year so far for Giancarlo Stanton, the team remains in the thick of the Wild Card hunt. The club has gotten surprisinly good performances out of Martin Prado, Derek Dietrich, and Adam Conley along with potential star turns for Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, and they still have the constant stream of strong performances from Jose Fernandez. All of this is leading to a second half in which, for the first time in years, the Marlins actually feel like they have a decent chance at a playoff berth.
So what do we think is going to happen in the next 74 games? Here are five bold predictions for the second half.
1) Giancarlo Stanton breaks out and ends the season with 40 home runs.
Stanton is recovering from a month-plus slump, the worst of his career, and that had to weigh heavy on him leading into the All-Star break. He has never looked worse through half a campaign as he has with his current .233/.328/.495 (.348 wOBA) batting line. He is on pace to finish with a disappointing 2013-level campaign, and in 2013 he at least missed a month of playing time leading up to his weak 2.5-win season.
That may very well end up in that sort of frustrating fashion, but Stanton will at least get his long balls and get his swing back on tract. ZiPS projects him to finish the year with 240 more plate appearances and 16 more home runs. I imagine Stanton will heat up a bit more than the projected .258/.356/.545 line and snag 20 more long balls in the next few months, finishing the campaign with the 40-homer season that has always eluded him. His offensive game will be back, even if it is not in peak form, and he will help put Miami in a good position in terms of run scoring with a return to power.
2) Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich will continue at around this pace.
It is hard to say where either of these two players will land. The presumption is that both have made star turns and will continue to play well, but how well is still up in the air. Ozuna has not changed anything, but his approach has vacillated in terms of aggressive tendencies. Yelich is slowly swinging more often, negating some of what he did early in the year to catch our attention.
The upside potential still lies in Ozuna, but he is a lesser bet to stay at this level of performance. After all, Ozuna has had one monster month, one good month, and one bad month to his name essentially, and this is after years of uncertain results. Yelich has a developed and refined skillset, and as he continues to work starting pitchers around, he will return to his patient ways. He is a closer bet to stay at this level, but he is unlikely to consistently be better than a .370 wOBA without another change in skill like the one we saw heading into this year in terms of strength pulling the ball. Either way, both will end the year with pretty similar batting lines to the ones they have now.
3) Dee Gordon will lose a lot of playing as the season progresses.
The Marlins have said all the right things in terms of getting Gordon back into the swing of things come July 29, when he is set to return to the big league roster from his 80-game suspension. However, Derek Dietrich is playing so well and Martin Prado has remained effective enough, mirage or otherwise, that Gordon seems like he would be the odd man out.
It is likely that Gordon will get the second base job back when he returns, relegating Dietrich unfortunately to the bench and to occasional platoon starts. However, I do not see this lasting very long. As Dietrich continues to hit decently and display his on-base skill, Gordon’s mediocre batting skillset will display itself more. I imagine Don Mattingly and the Fish will reach an impasse in which Gordon will find himself back on the bench as the team tries to finish up a stretch run, if only because Gordon is not valid for playoff play anyway should Miami make it. He will end up being the player whom the Marlins use as a utility infielder to rest Dietrich and Prado rather than using the less defensively-skilled Dietrich as a late-game pinch hitter/runner or defensive replacement. It may be the best way to go in 2016.
4) Jose Fernandez will finish second in the Cy Young voting.
This feels like an almost guaranteed situation. The Marlins are stretching out Fernandez for a shot at the playoffs, but even if he makes it to the end of the year with 170 innings under his belt, that will lag behind likely Cy Young competitors like Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Arrieta, and Johnny Cueto. Right now, Fernandez is at least in line to keep up with those guys, as Syndergaard missed a potential start after pitching out of the pen once and Kershaw is out with an injury at this time. However, as the season progresses, you have to expect that Fernandez’s lack of starts will affect his value on the field, even if his numbers per start end up being stellar.
Ultimately, it will be a situation not unlike the 2013 season, when Fernandez posted an impressive 2.19 ERA and 2.73 FIP in 172 innings. The innings will limit the value he can realistically provide, but the numbers are going to be on par or better than all but the very best of the National League. With such a stacked lineup of pitching, however, it will end up leaving Fernandez just shy of the crown.
5) The Marlins will finish fourth in the Wild Card race.
I just do not see the Marlins finishing the year first or second in the race. The problem remains that the National League is loaded with top-tier talent, and while Miami has spent the first half pushing itself into the discussion, they still face some difficult hurdles. The Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates are all very difficult competition, and even with the remaining National League teams being test dummies for the elite cast, battling these tough squads all the time will make for a difficult race. The Marlins came into the season with a talent level that was not quite up to par with these clubs, and in the course of the first half, they have only mildly changed that perception even with the victories; FanGraphs has them finishing with a .512 win percentage after predicting they would have a .506 win percentage to start the year. That means the Fish were thought to be an 82-win team before 2016 and after the first half are considered now an 83-win team.
Right now, of the five teams currently in contention for the Wild Card spots, Miami owns the fourth-best shot at a playoff spot behind Los Angeles, New York, and St. Louis. That sounds about right, and this is no great loss to this team. While a Wild Card berth would be amazing, finishing close to a spot in the postseason would be a great team accomplishment.