With a gaping hole in the starting rotation and ownership of the franchise in flux, the Miami Marlins entered 2017 with no margin for error.
To remain relevant, they needed the young position players to exceed expectations at the plate, avoid mistakes in the field and on the base paths, and rally to win against deep-pocketed opponents. Checking each of those boxes has them battling for second place in the NL East and on pace to leave their mark in the Marlins record books.
Here are five pursuits worth following as the second half of the season gets underway.
Single-season home runs
Current record holder: Gary Sheffield (42 HR, 1996)
Collectively, this year’s roster (104 HR) is exactly halfway to a franchise record with only 75 games remaining, but there’s a more exciting chase taking place at the individual level. Giancarlo Stanton (26 HR) and Marcell Ozuna (23 HR) and Justin Bour (20 HR) are all realistic threats to Sheffield. Of course, Stanton would’ve certainly topped the list already had he not missed significant time due to injury in each of the past five seasons. Thankfully, the only concern about him heading into the second half is a possible bruised ego suffered during those disappointing Home Run Derby and All-Star Game performances.
Team fielding percentage
Current record holder: 2015 Marlins (.987 Fld%)
Miami’s infield memorably achieved a unique errorless streak in early 2016. Unfortunately, defensive regression late in the season—.325 BABIP allowed in August, .317 BABIP allowed in September—contributed to their fade in the NL Wild Card race. The 2017 team isn’t necessarily better in the field, but they have expertly avoided committing errors in the eyes of the official scorer. Using a fourth decimal place as a tiebreaker, the current .9873 fielding percentage edges out 2015’s .9871 and 2003’s .9870. Their 40 errors this season is also the second-lowest total in the majors, trailing only the Kansas City Royals.
Consecutive road wins
Current record holder: 1995 Marlins (eight straight)
The Marlins’ best shot at this likely comes later this month. They took three straight from the San Francisco Giants prior to the All-Star break, with road matchups against the mediocre Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers scheduled for July 21-26. There’s even an off-day immediately before the trip begins to ensure the club is fully rested. In case the players need any added incentive, it might require a near-perfect record that week to dissuade the front office from selling off veteran talent at the trade deadline.
Stolen base success rate
Current record holder: 2012 Marlins (78.4 SB%)
As confirmed by new Statcast data, we’ve got plenty of impressive athletes in Miami right now. Although stolen base totals are in decline across the league, that has not prevented the Fish from being efficient with their limited attempts. Dee Gordon and company—but for the most part, it’s about Gordon—combine for a success rate north of 80 percent (49-for-61). Their 12 times caught stealing is the fewest of any NL team.
Decisions in an undefeated season
Current record holder: AJ Ramos (7-0, 2014)
This is Dustin McGowan’s second straight season with the Marlins, yet he might still be the most anonymous man in their bullpen. The 35-year-old usually enters games under fairly low-leverage circumstances, and he won’t thrill you with strikeout rate (20.1 K% in 2017) or velocity (93.5 mph fastball). However, McGowan has been undeniably useful, overachieving his peripherals (3.75 FIP, 4.29 xFIP) with a 2.91 ERA. Plus, he’s proving to be a crucial bridge between abbreviated starting pitching outings and the rest of the relief corps. Dozens of Marlins have maintained a flawless winning percentage throughout a full summer, but only Ramos did so while racking up more victories than McGowan already has (five).
Dustin McGowan's 2017 Wins
|April 30||PIT||1.0||1||0||0||2||1||Top 5th, 0 out, down 1||Mid 5th, down 1|
|May 30||PHI||3.0||3||1||1||0||3||Top 4th, 0 out, ahead 7||Mid 6th, ahead 6|
|June 2||ARI||1.2||0||0||0||0||1||Top 5th, 1 out, tied||Mid 6th, ahead 1|
|June 9||PIT||1.1||0||0||0||2||0||Bot 4th, 2 out, ahead 4||End 5th, ahead 3|
|July 5||STL||1.1||1||1||1||0||1||Bot 5th, 0 out, ahead 4||Bot 6th, 1 out, ahead 4|