The Week Ahead: Keep an eye on those Marlins

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robertson_nate_marlins.jpgThe Florida Marlins are full of potential. The question has always been whether or not they can realize that potential before their young stars get too expensive and are sold off to their richer competitors.

But this weekend, the promising young Fish showed that they just might realize their potential this season after taking two of three from the two-time defending NL champion Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

The Marlins have now won five straight series at Philadelphia, which is remarkable enough.

Perhaps even more remarkable is how they did it this weekend, losing the series opener on Friday to Roy Halladay before taking the next two with dominating pitching performances by Ricky Nolasco and Nate Robertson (pictured).

Nolasco pitched a five-hitter on Saturday, striking out four and allowing just one run. Then Robertson combined with two relievers for a shutout on Sunday. That’s one run in 18 innings from the Phillies, a team that entered Saturday’s action leading baseball in batting average, runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.

The Marlins certainly caught the attention of the Phillies:

“I think the team that you saw out here today is young, and the last two years they started to get a lot of confidence and experience,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “If they’re pitching holds up, they definitely can be a threat.”

The Marlins enter the week with an 8-5 record, 1/2-game behind the Phillies. They continue their nine-game road trip this week with three games at Houston and three more at Colorado. Are they for real? Can the young pitchers hold up? Will the defense carry it’s weight? Can they stay healthy? Should be fun to find out.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Yankees at A’s, April 20-22:
For those of you waiting for the 9-5 A’s to go away and slip down into the standings where you think they belong, this could be your big chance.

Rangers at Red Sox, April 20-22: The Red Sox will be looking to end their skid against the Rangers, a team that has yet to live up to its preseason hype.

Phillies at Braves, April 20-22: Make sure you tune in on Wednesday to see what Jason Heyward can do – if anything – against Roy Halladay.

Cubs at Brewers, April 23-25: Brewers fans get annoyed when their ballpark is filled up with Cubs fans. They will be even more annoyed if Alfonso Soriano manages to hold onto any fly balls hit his direction.

Cardinals at Giants, April 23-25: Both teams are off to good starts at 8-4. Both feature a potent 1-2 punch atop their rotations. Only one of them has Albert Pujols, however.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Cubs at Mets (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Phillies at Braves (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at Angels (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mariners at White Sox (FOX)
Sunday, 2:10 p.m.: Cubs at Brewers (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Braves at Mets (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.