Miami Marlins quietly in hunt for National League Wild Card spot

Photo: Corn Farmer via Flickr.com

Photo: Corn Farmer via Flickr.com

Maybe it’s new manager Don Mattingly. In six years of managing big league ball, he’s never finished a season with a losing record.

Perhaps it’s the consistency of Martin Prado. He leads the team with a .323 batting average, the highest of his 11-year career.

Maybe it’s the anchor of the rotation, Jose Fernandez. Finally healthy, he’s responsible for 13 wins this year, the most he’s had in his career.

Whatever, or whomever, it is, the Miami Marlins are 67-63 as of Sunday night and have a legitimate chance to make it into the postseason for the first time in over a decade.

The team is 1.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second spot in the Wild Card and will play 16 of 27 games in September at home.

It seems highly unlikely they’ll catch the division-leading Washington Nationals before the season ends. Led by Bryce Harper, the D.C. folks have a comfortable eight-game lead with just over a month to go in the regular season; then again, stranger things have happened.

Miami probably wouldn’t complain if they didn’t win the division. Clinching either one of the Wild Card spots would be reason enough to celebrate.

You see, the past few seasons haven’t been kind to the Miami Marlins — and that’s putting it nicely.

It was only three seasons ago that the team finished with a 62-100 record, their second-worst record in franchise history.

It was seven seasons ago that the team last finished with a winning record, back when they were the Florida Marlins.

And it was 13 seasons ago that Miami last played in the postseason. Marlins fans probably have good memories from that playoff run — it ended when they won the 2003 World Series.

Similar to that team, this year’s Marlins are relying on their bats to win ballgames. All season, they’ve been seeing the ball well and hitting it even better.

Miami ranks third in the Majors with a .269 collective batting average and have won games using contact hitting, as opposed to power hitting.

In spite of having slugger Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of their lineup for most of the year and all-time home runs leader Barry Bonds as their hitting coach, the team has only hit 106 long balls, the second-fewest in the Bigs.

Stanton, the Home Run Derby champion earlier this summer, had hit 25 home runs this year before a groin injury landed him on the DL.

His absence, which could extend to the final week of the season, may be a big obstacle Miami will have to overcome to get into the postseason.

The other major obstacles will be the teams directly and front and behind them in the Wild Card standings.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, the only team ahead of the Marlins in the chase for a Wild Card spot, have been playing good-but-not-great baseball.

They’re a team that consistently makes the playoffs but rarely makes any noise once they get there.

A game behind the Marlins are the defending National League champion New York Mets. Much of their roster is intact after making a World Series run last year for the first time since 2000.

Of those teams, the Marlins are the sole club that doesn’t have experience playing competitive baseball in September. In past years, their Minor League players were getting work at this point in the season in order to scout and prepare for the next year.

But the Marlins also have something this year they haven’t had in years past — a manager with postseason experience.

Mattingly led the Los Angeles Dodgers into the postseason in each of the last three years, getting to the Championship Series once.

That was while working under the pressure of a big-city market, something he won’t have to worry about in non-baseball city Miami.

While Mattingly is familiar with the postseason, he may be unfamiliar with the lack of attention his squad is receiving. The media has given little to no attention to the Marlins since the season started.

While the Chicago Cubs have absorbed the focus of most of the baseball world, Miami has been quietly swimming into contention all season; and while most pundits expected them to fall out of the playoff race weeks ago, they never did.

There’s still a lot of baseball left, of course, but don’t be surprised if Miami sneaks into a playoff spot this year.

The coverage of the team has been quiet, but their bats certainly have not.

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