You might think it’s crazy, but I see a path to the playoffs.
Since that terrible start that saw them drop to a season-low 13 games under .500 at 17-30 on May 27th, the Marlins have gone 39-30 to climb back to within four games under.
Giancarlo Stanton is playing like a National League MVP. Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, JT Realmuto and Derek Dietrich are all making firm contributions to the cause. Even the pitching side of the equation is largely holding up, despite the attrition caused by injuries and trades. They just swept the National League Wild Card leader.
The thing I like the most about their chances, though, is the remaining schedule.
There are five teams in front of them, and before the season is over, they will play three of them. We’ve just seen the Colorado Rockies, and we’ll see them again, Sept. 25th-27th in Colorado. The Arizona Diamondbacks hold the second Wild Card spot; the Marlins will face them for a three game series in the desert (Sept. 22nd-24th) just before traveling to Denver. They will also have a chance to face the Milwaukee Brewers, Sept. 15th-17th, in Miami.
You combine those series with the six remaining games against the Washington Nationals, and it doesn’t come out looking very easy.
Well, I didn’t say easy. Nothing is easy in baseball. I said favorable.
Barring a spectacular collapse from the Nationals, the division is handily out of reach at this point, so playing the Nats really does the Marlins no favor, but facing three of their direct competitors in the Wild Card chase could prove invaluable.
Furthermore, beyond the four aforementioned teams, there is not a single squad remaining on the schedule with an above .500 record. Observe:
- August 14th-16th, San Francisco Giants (47-72)
- August 18th-20th, September 18th-20th, New York Mets (53-62)
- August 22nd-24th (including a doubleheader), Aug. 31st-Sept. 3rd, 12th-14th Philadelphia Phillies (43-72)
- August 25th-27th San Diego Padres (51-66)
- September 7th-10th, 28th-30th Atlanta Braves (52-63)
All records through 8/14
That is 30 of the remaining 45 games against teams with records below .500 (in some cases, well below .500). If that’s not favorable, I don’t know what is.
Obviously, there’s a lot to take into consideration here when evaluating if the Marlins can actually do this. The rotation remains a significant question mark despite consistency from Dan Straily and Jose Urena, and improved play from Vance Worley. Infield depth is precariously thin, as is the relief corps thanks to the departures of David Phelps and AJ Ramos.
Help could be on the way, though. The Marlins presently have eight players on the disabled list. Edinson Volquez is done for this season and much of the next; JT Riddle is out for 2017 as well. Oblique injuries are tricky, so Chris O’Grady is unlikely to be helpful down the stretch.
Beyond that, we could see the other five guys again. Yes, even Wei-Yin Chen, who has long been out with a fatigued elbow. It remains to be seen whether or not he’d be effective upon his return, but there is at least a chance, albeit a small one, that a returning Chen could bolster the Marlins rotation at just the right time. Nick Wittgren is expected to pitch again, Martin Prado is expected to play again. Kyle Barraclough will be back soon and should grab the closer job he was destined for ever since he came here.
Getting Justin Bour back would be a huge boost to an already effective lineup. Bour has also been out with an oblique injury but his happened earlier so it’s possible he’d be back to help in September.
It is a flawed team, no doubt about it, but not one bereft of talent. Additionally, they would need help from the teams ahead of them. Already playing well and bolstered by reinforcements both coming off the DL and by the September roster expansion, the Marlins could indeed shock everyone and grab a Wild Card spot.
Is it likely?
Fangraphs puts the Marlins at chances at making the playoffs at 2.9%, MLB.com, 3.0%. Baseball Prospectus weighs in with a hearty 3.6% chance. Additionally, only roughly 15% of teams who have eventually made the post-season in the Wild Card era start September out of playoff position.
That...that’s not high. Baseball’s funny, though. Teams get hot and ride that wave into the post-season when least expected. No one’s really watching the Marlins right now nationally, save for the nightly Stanbomb highlights; it would definitely take the world by surprise.
We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again. Twice before in their history, the Marlins have nabbed the Wild Card despite expectations and done something special with it.
Maybe, just maybe, it’ll happen with the 2017 Miami Marlins.