For the first time since the shortened 2020 season, the Miami Marlins are entrenched in postseason contention as Major League Baseball resumes from its All-Star break on Friday night.
The season has brought amazing energy and storylines to the Marlins, who are in second place in the National League, but are the NL leaders in the wild-card race, as well.
Chief among the headlines has been the dominance of Luiz Arraez and Jorge Soler powering the offense, but the fans at LoanDepot Park have been privy to much more, and excitement in Little Havana has reached heights this community hasn’t seen in a while.
Perhaps the team is trying to follow a trend that has seen South Florida teams author deep playoff runs, like the Florida Panthers and the Miami Heat. And in many cases, the Marlins have a similar script to those two clubs, as first-year manager Skip Schumaker’s lineup continues to hover around the top of what is a powerful, star-laden NL.
The Marlins haven’t advanced to the World Series since 2003, when they won it all vs. the New York Yankees. The big question is whether the young, hungry Marlins can stay afloat and repeat history 20 years later.
In the interim, let’s journey into the headlines and what may be in store in the second half:
CHASING .400 … AND THE NL MVP?
There is an old adage in baseball that states “if you hit the ball three out of 10 times, you’re a good player.” Well, how about four out of 10 times? Hitting for a .400 average is not only impressive, but it is a rarity. The last player to hit .400 for an entire season is Red Sox legend Ted Williams, doing so in 1941. Arraez is chasing history, but will need a solid start to the second half. He is hitting .383, entering Friday’s series opener vs. the Baltimore Orioles. He’s been over .400 at times, and was hovering in the .390s last week, before he slowed last weekend.
Acquired in a trade that sent pitcher Pablo Lopez to the Minnesota Twins, Arraez led the American League with a .316 average last season, and regardless of where he finishes this season, he should be, at least, among the final NL leaders for the batting title.
On Tuesday, he appeared in his second straight All-Star Game, starting at second base for the NL. He went 2-2 with an RBI in a 3-2 victory over the AL.
Many are counting Arraez among the favorites to win the NL MVP, though that honor is often reserved for power hitters. In fact, the only Marlin to win the prestigious award is slugger Giancarlo Stanton in 2017.
RUNNING ON SOLER POWER
Soler, who also made the All-Star Game, has become one of the leaders of the team and a charismatic character in the locker room. His extravagant personality has brought a fire to the rest of the players, and it helps that he is playing well after an injury-marred 2022.
Soler earned the first All-Star nomination of his career, after the slugging right fielder hit 23 home runs in the first half. Soler pairs his power with some solid fielding, as well, often authoring highlight plays by the end of the night.
“He’s been huge for me as a rookie manager just inside the clubhouse and his presence,” Schumaker said. “He’s holding people accountable.”
Soler has topped his expectations this season, and is making the most of being injury-free. Miami has been patiently waiting for Soler’s emergence since signing him in the 2021 offseason, and it’s safe to say that signing is paying off.
Emerging as the second star of the offense, Soler is showing flashes of his 2021 World Series MVP form, when he was with the Atlanta Braves, and doesn’t show signs of stopping.
Last year’s NL Cy Young winner, Sandy Alcantara, is not en route to a second straight award. Last year, Alcantara dominated batters with a 2.28 ERA, and led the MLB in complete games with six, as well as innings pitched, with 228.2. One of the biggest reasons for Alcantara’s 14-9 record in 2022 was the lack of run support he received from the Marlins’ offense.
However, this year has been quite the opposite. Alcantara has struggled, owning a 3-7 record on the mound with a career-high 4.72 ERA. In half the amount of starts, Alcantara has already surpassed his runs allowed total from 2022, with 70 on the year compared to the prior 68.
Alcantara’s struggles have, at times, frustrated Marlins fans, especially considering that Lopez, his former 1-2 tandem partner, has become the Twins’ ace, and earned an All-Star bid of his own.
The results are especially puzzling because Alcantara is getting the run support that many fans were begging for last season. As the Marlins chase a playoff spot, the big question is whether or not Alcantara can return to his old ways and begin dominating once again toward the second half of the season.
SKIP’S HOT START
After a wildly disappointing 2022 season that saw the Marlins go 69-93, longtime manager Don Mattingly walked away, and the search for a new skipper began. In October of 2022, Schumaker was hired, with general manager Kim Ng referencing him being a part of a championship team as a player for the St. Louis Cardinals and his knowledge of the game as reasoning for his hiring.
While some disagreed with the hiring, it seems to be paying off. The Marlins set a franchise record for wins before the All-Star Break with a 53-39 record. At the moment, the Marlins have a 79 percent chance to make the playoffs according to Baseball Reference. They are also on pace for 93 wins, which would be a franchise record. Not bad for a rookie manager.
Some of the success can be attributed to the play on the field, however, Schumaker has brought a change of attitude to the young Marlins squad and has them on a fast track to make the playoffs. From his time in St. Louis, he is used to winning, and it has rubbed off on the players.
Schumaker credits most of his winning ways to his former club, saying “Almost everything I know I learned from the St. Louis Cardinals. It was a very special time.”
Part of his staff also includes other former Cardinals, like hitting coach John Mabry and first base coach Jon Jay. And Jay has created a special bond with star Arraez, who reaches first base often.
WAITING FOR JAZZ’S PIZAZZ
Before the first pitch was even thrown, Jazz Chisholm was in the headlines. The Marlins announced in January that he would be making the move to centerfield, a position he had never played before. The move drew a lot of raised eyebrows and question marks, yet the club stuck with the move. A few days later, it was announced that Chisholm would be the lead athlete for MLB the Show 23, becoming the first Marlin to ever don the video game’s cover.
But in late March, Chisholm continued to garner attention for his bold proclamation on Twitter in which he said, “It’s so funny when I play 155 games this year the bandwagon gonna be so real and I don’t wanna hear it! Your tweets have been bookmarked!” This poured some negative attention on him, as social media reaction called him too confident and posted back at him to, “Let his game do the talking.”
It seemed that the “cover curse” struck Chisholm early in the season, when errors were evident as he adjusted to the position. And then, on April 5th, just seven games into the season, he injured his hand sliding into second base on a steal attempt. While this injury only had him miss one game, he later was injured on May 13 with a right foot contusion.
He returned six weeks later on June 27, but had a minor injury on July 2 that has kept him on the 10-day injured list. All the while, Schumaker tried several different options in centerfield, waiting for his star to return.
A healthy Chisholm may just help bring the right tune for the Marlins and help this burgeoning playoff push.