No matter whether or not the Marlins make the playoffs, this season can already be wrapped up as a big success for the Marlins. Probably, one of the better seasons in franchise history.
Sure it isn’t winning the World Series, like in 2003 or in 1997 (feel free to debate which season was bigger), but this year there was so much anxiety and uncertainty heading into the season that to end up hovering around .500 and in the hunt for a wild card berth would be nothing more than miraculous. At least if you believed the pundits at the beginning of the season.
The offseason was termed another “firesale” by the media, which was far from kind when they classified the moves and failed to acknowledge the Marlins’ stance as simply a “market correction”. The attendance figures for the Marlins have not been good, historically, and a lot of that can be attributed to the facility it plays its home games at.
Yet, the attendance is on pace to break the million mark, which is one facet for success when considering this franchise’s goals this season. It looked bleak after the first month.
Then it happened – the Marlins started to click. Whether it was Girardi finally resolving to the fact that he had no choice but to play every young player on this roster or the Marlins front choice gave him no alternative, the Marlins started to take off when Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen and Ricky Nolasco wiggled their way into the starting rotation. All that happened was each of these rookie starters have garnered double digit wins, as well as lots of critical acclaim, and also helped to stabilize the bullpen. This team, built historically with great pitching from the early Dombrowski-lead days to the current Beinfest regime, started to act and look like a Marlins team that fans have come to know over the years.
With the wins came confidence. And the talk of who would win the rookie of the year campaign. Seemingly out of nowhere emerged Dan Uggla, who not only was plucked from teh Rule V trash heap, on his way to a ROY-like campaign and grabbing free tickets to Pittsburgh as an all-star. Josh Willingham had a hot start, struggled in the middle months, but has recently re-emerged as the patient hitter with excellent power over the past month of August. Mike Jacobs has continued to build on his experience throughout the season while learning to play 1B and also supplying the Marlins with left-handed power from his spot in the lineup – possessing one of the sweetest swings since Wally Joyner or Will Clark. The blazing fast Hanley Ramirez not only has shown flashes of defensive brilliance while also adapting to become a smooth double play combo with Dan Uggla, also a Marlins’ tradition, he has also been a very promising offensive weapon hitting at the top spot of the lineup.
These rookies have been able to entrench themselves in the Marlins lineup everyday and secure their positions. But the Marlins have also been able to find hidden gems in Joe Borowski, who currently has 29 saves for the second most in the NL, and in Miguel Olivo, whose steady bat and defensive presence behind the plate has been crucial. Both players were veterans looking for a chance to prove themselves, and like Todd Jones last season, Borowski is a comeback player of the year candidate. Miguel Olivo may have played himself into job security.
Miguel Cabrera, on the other hand, continues to blossom and show this game that he is the top young hitter in all of baseball and has the promise to supplant Albert Pujols as the #1 hitter in the game. Currently in 2nd place for the batting title, he has started to hit more home runs (now with 100 on his career in teal) and is among the league leaders in several offensive categories. Plus he brings fun to the game and to the clubhouse, where he is recognized as a leader. Recently, he was swinging Alfredo Amezaga, another excellent find for the Marlins, in a mock dance as if they were trapped in a big band dance hall.
So, on the field, there is much to chew on for Marlin fans and plenty to be excited about. Even if the Marlins can’t hold on to their current pace and stay in the wild card race, they are gaining experience and building upon an expectation to win games and compete. The lessons will only prove immense for next season, not to mention for their rookie manager, Joe Girardi, who is also gaining experience as well as accolades, on his way through his first MLB marathon season as the big chief.