Not to be overshadowed by the Angels signing Mike Trout to the largest deal in sports history, and MLB contenders claiming the final few sought-after free agents, the Marlins are hot. Prior to Thursday’s 6-0 loss, they had been riding an 11-game winning streak, matching the franchise’s longest ever in Spring Training.
Now I know that this is “only Spring Training” and won't mean all that much when the first pitch is thrown March 28 on Opening Day. It’s still a refreshing sight considering the 2018 regular season team never strung together more than four straight W’s.
Following Wednesday’s win No. 11 over the Cardinals, I was able to take a deeper glance at the Marlins throughout the last several weeks of spring baseball. Brian Anderson is hitting .400 in 40 at-bats and Miguel Rojas is batting .486. Starting pitcher Pablo López is a man among boys:
That closes the book on Pablo López in the Grapefruit League. 20.0 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 16 K, 0.90 ERA, 0.55 WHIP.— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) March 20, 2019
It’s among the best individual spring stat lines in Marlins history.
Forgetting the results, everybody in Major League Baseball is trying to get ready for the real games. The Marlins look better prepared than the competition.
Pablo Lopez on the entire staff being lights out this Spring pic.twitter.com/UMMzYvmmiD— jeremy taché -- VC-Who? (@jeremytache) March 20, 2019
Like I said, you’re all thinking the same thing: these games and the Marlins’ results don't mean that they’re a threat in the NL East. However, you can't say that spring performance is totally useless.
Take pitcher Caleb Smith, for example. Smith had an up-and-down rookie season, where he posted a 4.19 ERA and a 5-6 record. Our expectation was that the left-hander would begin 2019 on the injured list coming off a lat injury. By going 2-0 in the spring with a 1.00 ERA and showing a great feel for each of his pitches, that plan has changed. Smith has solidified himself as a possible starter in the Marlins rotation.
No doubt, hundreds of players in MLB history—and dozens more each year—have had productive spring trainings, only to falter in the regular season. Marcell Ozuna was among the MLB leaders with a 1.074 OPS and a .356 batting average in 2018 exhibitions with the Cardinals, then plummeted to a .250 BA and .601 OPS in the first several weeks of meaningful games. It took him the rest of the year just to recover to be a league-average offensive player. Even our very own Lewis Brinson fell into this trap. Brinson hit for an average of .328 and an OPS of .951. In April, the young center fielder struck out 37 times (.167 BA), only to get worse in May (.137 BA, .395 OPS).
Miami hosts Colorado for Opening Day in a week. Entering Friday, they have three more Grapefruit League games to keep the good times rolling.
According to analysis from Max’s Sporting Studio, a higher percentage of teams who finished above .500 in Spring Training from 2014-2018 (44.3%) made the playoffs than the teams who finished with a below .500 record during that same period (23.8%). Also, 62 percent of the teams who made the playoffs in those last five years were teams who finished with a winning spring record. At 15-11, the 2019 Marlins are assured of being above .500.
We’ll be able to tell pretty quickly whether or not this Marlins team carries their spring training mojo into the regular season. Two of the first four series will be against playoff teams from 2018, the Rockies and the Braves. Then, the much-improved Phillies led by Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto come to Miami shortly after that.