Each year, a surprise team or two makes a strong push for a coveted playoff spot, and some years these teams make it in and cause the league to stir. In 2022, we saw the Baltimore Orioles almost be that team, while we also saw a down-and-out Philadelphia Phillies team win the National League pennant. With Spring Training on the Arizona and Florida horizon, it’s fitting to talk about teams’ playoff chances already, right? Spring Training brings so much energy and optimism, so why not give an underdog team their time in the sun?
The Miami Marlins Can Make the 2023 Playoffs
Believe it or not, the Miami Marlins are on the cusp of being a powerhouse in MLB. They do have a very strong division to compete in, coming off of a year that had two 100+ win teams in the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, and the aforementioned NL Pennant-winning Phillies.
Another hurdle for them is the young inexperience of the roster and even the coaching staff, led by 43-year-old rookie manager Skip Schumaker. One more obstacle is the fact that the Marlins organization, past and present, has displayed their lack of spending money to bring in good players, as well as spending to keep their recent/current talent. The immediate teardown of the 1997 and 2003 rosters is proof, as well as the break-up of their great outfield trio of Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and Marcell Ozuna. With all that said, they still have a chance, but why? How?
The Marlins pitching staff is loaded, especially their starting pitchers.
They have one of baseball’s best pitchers and the 2022 National League Cy Young Award winner in Sandy Alcantara (8.0 WAR 14-9 2.28 ERA 207 SO, 6 CG). With an ace, stopper, and consistent cornerstone like that, the starting rotation is off to a flying start. Alcantara has been progressing since his first All-Star selection in 2019.
With one of baseball’s best aces comes the rest of a very young rotation with pitchers like former top pitching prospect, Jesús Luzardo (2.0 WAR 4-7 3.32 ERA 120 SO). He has shown flashes of his potential when healthy. Pitchers Edward Cabrera (2.1 WAR 6-4 3.01 ERA) and Trevor Rogers (2021 3.5 WAR 7-8 2.64 ERA 157 SO) have shown glimpses of high-end stuff and minor-leaguer Braxton Garrett, who is expected to play a role for the Major league team this year.
They also have a bit of a wildcard potentially returning at some point in 2023 in former top prospect Sixto Sanchez. He has dealt and is still dealing with some shoulder injuries over the last few years, but with the light at the end of that tunnel, hopefully, he can continue to build upon his short MLB career and help push the Marlins into the playoffs.
In this mix of youngsters comes the savvy veteran free agent signing Johnny Cueto. Cueto had a resurgent 2022 (3.5 WAR 8-10 3.35 ERA) with the Chicago White Sox and brings a swagger and veteran presence that will be beneficial for this pitching staff.
The bullpen which seems to be a revolving door with almost every team each year is no different for the 2023 Marlins.
They have relievers like Dylan Floro (Career 4.2 WAR 21-16 3.15 ERA) and Tanner Scott (Career 1.1 WAR 13-13 4.61 ERA) who have provided some quality innings throughout their careers so far. But, right now, their biggest hope and shining star is a recently acquired closer Matt Barnes from the Boston Red Sox. He’s a guy that has shown in the past that he can be a dominant 9th-inning guy.
However, at the end of 2021 and all of 2022, he struggled mightily (0.2 WAR 0-4 4.31 ERA 8 SV). His performance culminated in him being left off the Red Sox 2021 playoff roster. But if he can bounce back in some fashion, Barnes out there looming in the bullpen can provide some late-inning help.
Otherwise, the Marlins bullpen is weaker but they do have some young potential arms that can provide some 100+MPH fastballs and quality innings. And, with some quality free-agent relievers still available, they can make a late push to sign one before the season starts. Another option could be a mid-season trade, as the organization has the depth to start making some moves to become a playoff contender year in and year out.
Returning Position Players
The big question again with the Marlins is going to be where the offense and runs come from. The Marlins over the last few years have had some pretty good pitching, but very lackluster offensive production. The pitcher-friendly ballpark in Miami has been one reason why the hitters have struggled to consistently hit home runs and provide run support, but also just the lack of effort by the front office to spend money/capital on the offense. But that has slowly changed here recently.
In 2022 they brought in outfielder Avisaíl García (-1.1 WAR .224 AVG 8 HR 35 RBIs) and former world series MVP Jorge Soler (0.4 WAR .207 AVG 13 HR 34 RBIs) to help out offensively and last year they struggled. These two guys are set to bounce back in 2023 and perform closer if not better to the back of their baseball cards.
They also brought in veteran catcher Jacob Stallings via a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who is considered one of the best defensive players at the catching position (2021 Gold Glove Winner, 2021 2.3 Defensive WAR). Offensively he is okay, he is not an offensive juggernaut as we saw last year (0.7 WAR .223 AVG 4 HR 34 RBIs), but he is someone you feel comfortable with running out there consistently.
Some other returning players expected to play meaningful games for the fighting fish this year include first baseman Garrett Cooper (1.0 WAR .261 AVG 9 HR 50 RBIs), utility Jon Berti (2.5 WAR .240 4 HR 28 RBIs 41 SB), Joey “Lunch Pail” Wendle (2.4 WAR .259 AVG 3 HR 32 RBIs 12 SB), budding superstar second baseman Jazz Chisholm Jr. (2.4 WAR .254 AVG 14 HR 45 RBIs 12 SB), outfielders Jesús Sánchez (1.0 WAR .213 AVG 13 HR 36 RBIs), Bryan De La Cruz (0.6 WAR .252 AVG 13 HR 43 RBIs), and JJ Bleday (-0.5 WAR .167 AVG 5 HR 16 RBIs).
Other than the 2022 All-Star, MLB The Show 23 cover athlete, and superstar in the making Jazz Chisholm Jr., the rest of the guys above are solid complementary pieces. Chisholm is going to have to come back healthy and strong this year and help be that “meat” at the top of the lineup. With his mix of power, speed, defense, and ability to hit for a high average, he has all the makings to be the key to this team. And, from the looks of it, he is going to put the pieces together in 2023 and be a big reason to make this surprise playoff appearance.
New Position Players
The Marlins this past off-season also brought in players like second baseman Jean Segura and Luis Arraez and former top Toronto Blue Jay shortstop prospect Jordan Groshans. These three guys are huge pickups to this team. Segura (1.8 WAR .277 AVG 10 HR 33 RBIs 13 SB) is a great veteran who was a key piece to the Phillies improbable World Series run last year. He is someone who has been on young rebuilding teams and obviously on deep postseason teams.
Along with him comes Arraez, who is a guy that always flies under the radar even though he was the American League batting champion last year (4.4 WAR .316 AVG 8 HR 49 RBIs) and has a career .314 AVG. He is a great bat-to-ball player, with good utility and defensive abilities at a multitude of positions. He also brings an intensity that the Marlins could use.
The last player here is Groshans (-0.1 WAR .262 AVG 1 HR 2 RBIs) who only two years ago was the Blue Jays top prospect and had such great promise. His immediate fall from grace is really surprising and for the Marlins, a blessing in disguise. He can easily provide some well-needed power, and offensive production if the Marlins can extract his potential. These three players will fit with the Marlins, they seem to be perfect guys for what they are trying to do, and big reasons why a big jump in wins is on the horizon.
The Marlins will have the pitching to compete with almost any team in MLB. The young promising arms, depth, and overpowering repertoires that these guys have are going to make it tough on opposing hitters. But what is underrated will be the veteran presence they have on the pitching staff.
Offensively, the team has used resources to build it up. The team is built with a ton of contact players (Wendle, Segura, Arraez), but they also have some power hitters and run producers (García, Soler, Chisholm Jr., Cooper). But, where this team is going to be different than a lot of other Major League teams is going to be with both the defense and their base stealing.
The Marlins currently have a solid defense led by guys like Chisholm Jr., Wendle, and Stallings. But also, the utility out of their players to play different positions will help them play match-ups and take away runs that their pitchers will be already limiting.
In 2022, the Marlins defense ranked about 16th in defensive runs saved, with these additions and position shuffling, those numbers are expected to increase. The last thought here comes from the forgotten phase of baseball and that is base running, but more specifically, base stealing.
With players like Segura, Chisholm Jr., Berti, García, and even Wendle, they will be taking bases and helping their offense in that regard. Berti, in 2022, led the Majors in stolen bases with 41, and, as a team, the Marlins ranked in the top five in stolen bases per game, attempts per game, and stolen base percentage. This is another phase of the game that is expected to increase in 2023.
The home run ball might be more scarce than with other teams but the stolen bases and lack of strikeouts will be more prudent. This team is rounding out to be built like an old-school team, similar to the Lou Brock or Ozzie Smith-led St. Louis Cardinals of the 1970s and 1980s. Defense, speed, contact, and pitching. It’s a great recipe for winning baseball, which is why this team can and will make a surprising run to the 2023 MLB playoffs.
Main Image: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY