For the last couple years, the NL East has been a two-horse race between the Braves and the Nationals. Both Atlanta and Washington have been able to stake their claims at the top of the division through a combination of developing homegrown talent and acquiring key components through trades and free-agent signings.
The last few seasons for the Miami Marlins has been sloppy to say the least. In fact, they’ve finished last in the East each of the last three years, with their win total declining each year, bottoming out in 2013 with just 62 wins. As a franchise, they are better known for fire sales than playoff runs. Approaching the 2014 season, there was reason to believe they would field an improved squad. They signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Casey McGhee among others to bolster their lineup. Still, I was not convinced they’d be improved enough to be a serious contender. Many fans and analysts (myself included) picked them to bring up the rear once again. Is it possible I’ll be eating my words come September? (Good news–my words are gluten free!)
With one week in the books the Marlins lead the division with a 5-2 record. They have nine batters (including five starters) with averages above .300, whereas the Braves have only four, and that’s including Julio do-it-all Teheran. Miami has logged 42 runs in seven games, more than any other team. The Braves have just 15 runs in their first six games.
Miami’s ace Jose Fernandez is pitching brilliantly, having allowed 1 earned run in 12.2 innings pitched. The rest of the pitching staff has been good as well, posting a team ERA of 2.43, fifth in the majors. The Braves team ERA is better, 1.56, second best overall.
The Braves pitchers are performing better than expected. We were supposed to be hunkered down, waiting for reinforcements, but our makeshift rotation is doing more than just staying afloat. The offense, on the other hand, is faltering at every given opportunity.We are atrocious with runners in scoring position, and if it weren’t for a slew of errors from the Nationals, we probably wouldn’t have won that series. Neither Heyward or BJ are hitting, so our two hot batters, Freeman and Johnson, aren’t getting enough RBI opportunities.
A real promising sign for the Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton already has 12 RBIs. Last year he earned 62 on the season, because he had no support in the lineup. Pitchers could pitch around him, and there were rarely runners on base for him to drive home. The new additions to the lineup could mean protection for Stanton, resulting in a more productive year.
This is not to say the Marlins are a better team. They are not. They will certainly not lead the majors in runs this year, and the Braves will not average 2.5 runs/game. Heyward will turn it around for sure, and so will Justin. Heck, I still even see hope for BJ. Every game his pitch selection gets better. The Braves rotation will improve as the year goes on, with the additions of Minor and Santana and Gavin Floyd. The Marlins pitching staff is not as deep as Atlanta’s. Steve Cishek is good, but he’s no Kimbrel.
Another big difference in this minuscule sample set of games is the opponents. The Marlins have beat up on arguably the two worst teams in the NL West, the Rockies and the Padres, while the Braves earned series wins against the Nationals, favorites in the East, and the Brewers, a contender in the tough NL Central.
We don’t face the Fish head-to-head until the 21st of April, but we’ll soon see how they fare against tougher opponents–they play two series against the Nationals in the coming two weeks. If they make a big statement in those two series, then I suppose we’ll have to consider them serious contenders.