The first half of the season for the Miami Marlins started with a flourish, but it ended with a whimper.
After losing 100 games in 2013, the Marlins came out of the gate in a big way this season. Each passing week, the team would eclipse win totals from last year in eye-opening ways. Optimism started to run wild and the team began to believe it could make the postseason when all is said and done.
A big hit for Miami came when Jose Fernandez went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. The ace required Tommy John surgery which ended his 2014 season and also will likely keep him out until the midway point of next season. Fernandez had meant so much to the team, not only for his performance but also for his enthusiasm on the bench.
With Fernandez gone, the Marlins needed to find a new arm for the rotation. Unfortunately for the team, that's a project that they still haven't completed. Names have come and gone such as Randy Wolf and Kevin Slowey. Neither pitcher was able to take over the rotation spot and hold it. The veterans ended up being subsequently released and the search continued for Miami.
Andrew Heaney, a highly touted prospect was brought up but he showed signs of not being quite ready and was quickly demoted back to the minors. Anthony DeSclafani, another prospect was given a chance but he too was optioned to New Orleans after a handful of starts.
As the Marlins head into the break, they do so with a four-man rotation and with one of the slots being held by Brad Hand. The left-hander has not enjoyed much success this year but is out of options and is also one of the few choices Miami has in the organization for the rotation.
Once the second half begins, Miami will need to add a fifth starter and may also elect to replace Hand at some point. Heaney and DeSclafani could return, as could fellow minor-league arm Bryan Flynn. There's also a possibility a new name such as Justin Nicolino could be given an opportunity to pitch for Miami. As long as the team remains in playoff contention however, leashes will be short.
One of the biggest stories of the 1st half pitching wise was Henderson Alvarez. The right-hander stepped into the ace role after Fernandez went down and he put up All-Star numbers. Alvarez will be taking part in his first Midsummer Classic on Tuesday due to his success. It's been a good story for Alvarez as he finished the 2013 season with a no-hitter and then went on to hurl three complete game shutouts in the first half alone.
Another great story has been Casey McGehee who could come away with Comeback Player of the Year honors. McGehee is not going to the All-Star Game but many believe he belongs there. The third baseman leads the National League in hits going into the break and also paces the league in hits with runners in scoring position. He has provided protection for Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup and given the Marlins the kind of production they needed at the hot corner.
Stanton, who is headed to his second career All-Star Game, has been huge for Miami despite a slump towards the end of the half. The slugger is tied for the NL lead in home runs and leads the league in runs batted in. He'll also be taking part in his first ever Home Run Derby on Monday and is the favorite to win the event.
After a tough end to June and a sub par beginning to July, the Marlins find themselves in fourth place in the NL East. Still with 68 games to play, it is feasible that Miami can inch back into contention. Currently the Marlins are 7.5 games behind first place in the division and trail by 7 games in the Wild-Card race. A solid start to the second half could bring that into a more manageable number for the team.
If Miami wants to contend this year, it will mean finding a second reliable arm in the rotation either via trade or promotion. Alvarez has been consistent but behind him, it's been a mixed bag of results. It's possible that the Marlins will be buyers before the trade deadline at the end of month but they also could end up sellers. A lot will depend on how the team begins play on Friday.
The team will also need to find a second baseman who can provide consistent production. After losing Rafael Furcal to injuries, there has been a revolving door at second base for Miami. Derek Dietrich went down with his own injury and has struggled in the field. As of late, Donovan Solano has manned the role but has provided little offense along the way. Optimally, Miami would acquire a second baseman with speed who can be a table setter. It remains to be seen if such a player will be on the market however.
The bullpen has been another problem for the Marlins. Outside of Steve Cishek, it's been difficult for the team to find a reliable and consistent arm. Even Cishek has struggled as of late in several games including a blown save on Wednesday. A.J. Ramos looked good but also shaky on other days. Bryan Morris did not allow a run until Saturday after coming over in a trade in June. Morris however has been hittable and that could end up meaning a lot more runs cross the plate against him in time.
The Marlins are a better team than they have appeared to be in recent games but they are also not as good as they seemed early in the year. It's unlikely the team will play in October this year but it should finish with a better record than it did in 2013.