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That was the knockout blow

It’s now crystal clear: the Marlins won’t be postseason contenders this year.

Bally Sports Florida

I want to say, “it’s been a fun ride,” but that would be disingenuous. Watching the 2022 Miami Marlins season has been a chore. From the get-go, there’s been such a deep disconnect between what the team’s leadership says, what they actually do and what happens on the field. I have lost countless hours trying to make sense of it. The players on the roster don’t complement one another and the ways they have been utilized are not conducive to success. In related news, I’ve been discovering gray hairs scattered on my head for the first time in my life.

A blowout loss to the Giants on June 3 made me doubt the Marlins’ commitment to winning. A similar spectacle in Cincinnati on Monday night confirmed that this is not their year to contend. Coincidentally, Willians Astudillo took the mound on both occasions.

The majority of the regular season schedule is in the books, with the Marlins having won 46.9% of their games. Opponents have outscored them by 22 runs. This is a below-average baseball team. With MLB’s newly expanded playoff format, that’s not disqualifying. However, many of the factors that buoyed them early on can no longer be relied upon and the in-house reinforcements they fantasized about are not going to fix everything.

The brilliant Jazz Chisholm Jr. is weeks away from resuming baseball activities. The streaky Jorge Soler won’t get an opportunity to catch fire for the foreseeable future, either. Max Meyer’s special elbow gave out only six innings into his big league career. Sixto Sánchez is rehabbing at a snail’s pace with the objective of contributing in 2023, not this year. Those are the ceiling-raisers. Concurrent injuries to role players like Brian Anderson, Jon Berti, Cody Poteet and Cole Sulser have ripped the rug out from underneath them, too. Lopsided losses are going to become more commonplace.

Last offseason, the Marlins made significant changes to their major league medical staff. Those have backfired, and “bad luck” is not a satisfactory explanation. Numerous times, we have seen players stay in games despite being in obvious discomfort. We’ve seen players aggravate previous injuries within days of returning from the IL. These setbacks are magnified by the nonsensical criteria that the front office uses to determine which replacements to call up from Triple-A Jacksonville.

The Marlins starting rotation, anchored by Sandy Alcantara and on the verge of welcoming back Jesús Luzardo and Edward Cabrera, should be very productive down the stretch. But this group is several relievers and half a lineup short of potentially making it to October—they would be mortgaging their entire future to complete that shopping list. Not worth it. Entering Tuesday, FanGraphs gives them 2.3% odds of rallying for a National League Wild Card spot.

One of the main reasons to tune in for Marlins baseball on non-Sandy days is JJ Bleday. He’s arguably the best healthy hitter on the team...with a career 109 wRC+ in the minors. They are so, so far away from relevancy.

Marlins active roster as of July 26
Marlins active roster as of July 26

Every team has its annual individual disappointments. They aren’t necessarily byproducts of poor effort or inadequate coaching. This is an extraordinarily complex sport. Sometimes it’s simply not your year. The competent teams reluctantly accept when players are underperforming and adjust their depth charts accordingly.

There is a different philosophy in Miami. Trevor Rogers (0.4 fWAR) is a staple of the Marlins starting rotation. Avisaíl García (-0.2 fWAR) ranks third on the Fish in plate appearances. Jacob Stallings (-1.2 fWAR) remains their primary catcher. These guys have been consistently, unambiguously awful in 2022, yet continue to be treated like their 2021 selves. The Marlins’ stubbornness has led to additional losses.

How much of this is Don Mattingly’s doing? I suspect very little. We will find out soon enough as his managerial contract expires at season’s end.

Against the rebuilding Washington Nationals, the Marlins have a 12-1 record. Against all other teams combined, they’ve gone 33-50. Unfortunately, they will play the Nats only six times over their final 66 games.

General Manager Kim Ng of the Miami Marlins sits in the dugout prior to the game between the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets at Citi Field on Thursday, July 7, 2022 in New York, New York. Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Even with their seller’s position clearly established, the Marlins face a lot of tough decisions over the next week. They have productive, cost-efficient, well-liked players such as Pablo López, Anthony Bass and Joey Wendle who could help any contender’s roster throughout the rest of 2022. But how would the Marlins replace their production for the 2023 campaign?

Combining their minor league affiliates with players who will eventually come back from the IL, there’s awesome talent in Miami. The problem is they have deprived that talent of opportunities to acclimate themselves. It is more difficult than ever to translate Triple-A production to the majors. We do not know if Lewin Díaz or Jerar Encarnación or Charles Leblanc or their Jumbo Shrimp teammates can hit at the highest level, and we’re running out of time to find out.

A 40-man roster crunch looms in November. Prospects like Leblanc, Peyton Burdick, Griffin Conine, Troy Johnston, Andrew Nardi, Josh Simpson and Bryan Hoeing will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The Marlins won’t have roster spots for all of them. Either make consolidation trades or risk losing them for nothing.

For the 18th consecutive full-length season, the Marlins will be watching the most consequential MLB games from home. I don’t expect them to buck that trend anytime soon without a more proactive, imaginative front office or one that has sufficient support from ownership to spend when it takes to overcome occasional mistakes.