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2017 Preview: Miami Marlins

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Miami Marlins.

The narrative for the 2017 Marlins won’t be about the progression of Christian Yelich or Giancarlo Stanton having the 50-homer season everyone knows he’s capable of having. Unfortunately, the narrative will center around the team’s ability to compete without All-Star starter Jose Fernandez, who was tragically killed in a boating accident near the end of the regular season last September. The team had only six games left in the season but it now has a full 162-game slate during which someone will fill the charismatic leadership role Fernandez vacated.

The starting rotation is now led by newcomer and veteran Edinson Volquez, who signed a two-year, $22 million contract in November. Volquez breathed new life into his career after his 2014 stint with the Pirates, but regressed to a 5.37 ERA last season in 34 starts with the Royals. Kauffman Stadium played as a hitter-friendly park last year, according to Baseball Reference, while Marlins Park was more pitcher-friendly, so the switch should theoretically help Volquez’s numbers in 2017. But he’s also 33 years old and coming off of a season in which he posted his lowest strikeout rate since becoming an everyday pitcher.

Wei-Yin Chen returns for his second year with the Marlins. The lefty made 22 uninspiring starts last season, finishing with a 4.96 ERA and a 100/24 K/BB ratio in 123 1/3 innings. He missed time between late July and mid-September with an elbow ligament issue. If there’s reason for optimism going forward, it’s that he’s had a decent spring thus far, owning a 3.27 spring ERA as of this writing.

Tom Koehler fills out the middle of the rotation after putting up a 4.33 ERA with a 147/83 K/BB ratio in 176 2/3 innings last year. At this point, with over 700 major league innings under his belt, Koehler appears to have plateaued as a slightly above replacement level pitcher. He’ll typically throw five or six innings and give up three or four runs. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. There is value in dependability and he shouldn’t be a major concern for the Marlins.

Dan Straily joins the rotation after spending 2016 with the Reds. The 28-year-old right-hander hit the skids in 2014-15 but rebounded strong last year, finishing 14-8 with a 3.76 ERA and a 162/73 K/BB ratio in 191 1/3 innings. He gave up a league-high 31 homers, but that’s in some part attributable to Great American Ball Park. Some of those home runs become routine fly outs at Marlins Park. Straily had some good batted ball fortune so while one should expect his home run rate to decline in 2017, his BABIP should increase and will more or less even things out, so projecting him for an ERA around 4.00 seems reasonable.

Adam Conley will likely round out the rotation. At times, the 26-year-old lefty looked difficult to hit, but he was inconsistent. He held the opposition scoreless in eight of his 25 starts, but he also yielded four or more runs in eight starts as well. Ultimately, he finished with a 3.85 ERA and a 124/62 K/BB ratio in 133 1/3 innings. Conley will need to deflate that walk rate to make inroads on consistency but the southpaw should be up to the task.

In the bullpen, 30-year-old A.J. Ramos will return to closing. The club dabbled with Fernando Rodney in the closer’s role in the second half last year to disastrous effect. Ramos, when he had the ninth inning, saved 40 games with a 2.81 ERA and a 73/35 K/BB ratio in 64 innings, earning his first All-Star nomination in the process. Ramos has a great ability to miss bats, but he has iffy control and sometimes creates problems for himself. That being said, Ramos has a track record that speaks for itself as he carries a 2.62 ERA since becoming a bullpen mainstay in 2013.

37-year-old Brad Ziegler will set up for Ramos after closing for most of the past two seasons in Arizona, during which he compiled a 2.05 ERA. Ziegler doesn’t succeed by missing bats, though his 20.1 percent strikeout rate set a career-high last season. The sidewinding right-hander induces plenty of ground balls as his career 66.3 percent rate illustrates. In an era where many hitters are making a concerted effort to hit fly balls rather than line drives and ground balls, Ziegler’s ability to force hitters to roll over on his pitches becomes a major strength.

Kyle Barraclough, 26, isn’t yet a household name but it feels like he will be soon. Despite a rather high walk rate, the right-hander misses more than enough bats to make up for it. He racked up a 36.9 percent K-rate last year, the seventh-highest rate among qualified relievers. Barraclough has a 2.78 ERA over 97 career major league innings. Given the Marlins’ tendency to trade players before they become too expensive, it would not be surprising to see Ramos end up in a new uniform within the next two years with Barraclough ascending to the closer’s role.

The rest of the bullpen will be filled out by David Phelps, Junichi Tazawa, Dustin McGowan, Hunter Cervenka, Severino Gonzalez, and a revolving door of others between Triple-A and the majors. It doesn’t have the eye-popping star power of the Indians’ or Yankees’ bullpens, for instance, but it has the chance to be among the best in baseball.

Offensively, Stanton leads the way in right field. When he’s healthy, he indeed has the potential to smack 50 home runs, something no Marlin has ever done. The only problem is that Stanton has only played in 125 or more games in a season twice in his seven-year career. He has averaged 118 games in that span of time. Last year, in 119 games, Stanton hit .240/.326/.489 with 27 home runs and 74 RBI. The Marlins, who went 78-83 last year, have a chance to insert themselves into the NL East division race if Stanton is able to stay healthy this season.

Christian Yelich will handle center field after breaking out last season. He set career-bests in nearly every category, batting .298/.376/.483 with 21 home runs, 98 RBI, and 78 runs scored in 659 plate appearances. He won his first Silver Slugger and will soon make his first All-Star team. Yelich also has the potential to become an MVP.

Marcell Ozuna returns to left field. He’s had a shaky history with the team as owner Jeffrey Loria has very publicly not been a fan of his. If not for ex-hitting coach Barry Bonds and manager Don Mattingly, Loria may have traded Ozuna going into the 2016 season. Instead, Ozuna went on to have a productive year, batting .266/.321/.452 with 23 home runs and 76 RBI, making his first All-Star team in the process. He’s not a game-changer the way Stanton and Yelich are, but he’s a perfectly competent bat to have batting fifth or sixth in the lineup.

Ichiro Suzuki will serve as the fourth outfielder. Now 43 years old, Suzuki showed he still has plenty left in the tank, finishing last season batting .291 while swiping 10 bases in 365 PA. He isn’t likely to play in 143 games again, but he’s still a good fit in his current role.

Third base was supposed to be Martin Prado’s responsibility, but he suffered a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring during the World Baseball Classic, so Derek Dietrich will handle the hot corner to open the season. The 33-year-old Prado is the better all-around player, but Dietrich can certainly hold his own after batting a productive .279/.374/.425 with 32 extra-base hits, 42 RBI, and 39 runs scored in 412 PA last season.

At shortstop, Adeiny Hechavarria is an offensive black hole but he makes up for it by being one of the best defensive shortstops this side of Andrelton Simmons. Hechavarria hit a measly .236/.283/.311 last season but still graded out at 1.2 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference. If the Marlins are really in the thick of things near the end of July, making an upgrade at shortstop might be a worthwhile endeavor.

Dee Gordon is once again at second base. He missed half the season last year due to a drug suspension and finished hitting a putrid-by-his-standards .268/.305/.335. In 2015, he led the majors with 205 hits and 58 stolen bases, and won the batting title in the NL with a .333 average. Some teams can afford to have one black hole in their lineup, but two makes it really tough to score runs consistently, to the Marlins can’t afford for Gordon to not hit again in 2017.

Justin Bour is now the everyday first baseman. The thought was that the Marlins would platoon him with a right-handed hitter, but that will not be the case. Bour last season hit .264/.349/.475 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in 321 PA. After Stanton, Bour likely has the highest power potential in the lineup.

J.T. Realmuto will return as the first-string catcher with A.J. Ellis backing him up. Realmuto quietly put up a solid season, hitting .303/.343/.428 with 31 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBI, 60 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases in 545 PA. He was the only catcher in baseball to rack up double-digits in stolen bases last season.

The projection systems are pretty pessimistic on the Marlins’ ability to score runs. I’m a little more optimistic, but don’t have a lot of confidence in the starting rotation to pull its weight. That’s why I’m expecting them to fall a bit short of .500.

Prediction: 80-82 record, 3rd place in NL East

Miguel Sano fouls a ball off his shin, so a columnist slams him for his weight

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As Bill wrote last night, the Twins have placed third baseman Miguel Sano on the 10-day disabled list with a stress reaction in his left shin. He sustained the injury Friday after he fouled a ball off of his leg, attempted to play through it, and left the game on Saturday when the pain became too great.

That’s baseball, though, right? Sometimes you foul a ball off your foot or your shin or something. Stuff happens and you just gotta accept it. Unless, of course, you’re Jim Souhan, columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in which case you use it as a pretext for going after Sano for his weight:

Souhan acknowledges that Sano injured himself with the foul ball and says that he’s not fat-shaming him. He says he’s merely concerned about him and how well a man of his size can recover from injuries. Maybe that would wash for most columnists, but it doesn’t for Souhan, who has made it his business over the years to treat illness and injuries of sports figures as moral failings and evidence of poor character.

His most famous target has been Joe Mauer, who he has slammed as “fragile” for years, arguing that he was coddled for missing time and losing effectiveness to a concussion — a concussion! — which he compared to “a bruise.” Given that Souhan had a front row seat for a concussion all but destroying the career of Justin Morneau you’d think he’d have a bit more empathy about that, but apparently not. Then again, this is a guy who once wrote that the University of Minnesota football coach should be fired because he has epilepsy, so empathy is not his strong suit.

And so it is with Sano. A guy injured with a foul ball which, apparently, makes him deserving of a sermon about watching his weight. It’s a column I would bet Souhan has had written and saved for months, hoping he could use it in the event Sano went on the disabled list for some conditioning-related ailment or a pulled muscle or something, but which had to be pressed into service for this occasion.

It’s practically pathological. And it’s sad.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 6, Dodgers 1: Justin Verlander dominated the Dodgers, allowing one run on two hits over eight innings, snapping their six-game winning streak. Audition for Verlander? He lives in L.A. in the offseason and would waive his 10-5 rights to play there, I imagine. Not that the Dodgers really need any help.

Royals 7, Indians 4:  Cheslor Cuthbert homered and drove in three runs for the Royals. Between him and Whit Merrifield, Kansas City has more guys with names that sound like they belong to prep school bad guys from a 1980s snobs vs. slobs movie than any team in baseball history. Add Cam Gallagher to that list. He drove in a run too. Afterwards they had a meeting to try to figure out just how they keep losing to the nerd fraternity/poor kid camp/random band of neighborhood misfits in whatever improbable sporting event they’re all competing in. Thing is, they’ll never figure it out AND the nerds/poor kids are gonna steal their girlfriends. Sad.

Angels 5, Orioles 4:  Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons homered and Cameron Maybin drove in the go-ahead run with a pinch-hit single in the eighth. The Angels have won nine of 11. Orioles pitchers issued nine walks. Yep, the Angels walked nine times.

 

Braves 8, Reds 1: Atlanta rode a six-run fifth inning to victory and that inning was powered largely by a Tyler Flowers grand slam. Braves starter Sean Newcomb tossed five shutout innings, allowing five hits but also walking five guys which is sort of what he does. I don’t have a “five times” GIF.

Twins 12, Diamondbacks 5: The Twins scored nine runs in the first — yes, they scored NINE TIMES — thanks in part to an Eddie Rosario grand slam. Per baseball rules, a forfeited game is scored 9-0 in favor of the winning team. The Dbacks shoulda just thrown in the towel after the first inning and hopped their flight to New York a lot earlier. Really, playing out the rest of this one had to pale compared to 2-3 extra hours to do stuff in New York. In other news, Bartolo Colon won his third game in five starts for the Twins. It’s his first ever win over the Dbacks, which was the last team he had never beaten.

Marlins 6, Mets 4: Giancarlo Stanton hit a three-run homer, turning a 2-1 game into a 5-1 game. It was his 45th dinger of the year. Adam Conley backed him up by allowing one run over seven innings and striking out 11 before the Marlins bullpen got a bit roughed up, but they held on. The Mets have lost six of nine, which is not nice.

Rays 3, Mariners 0: Blake Snell tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits. Kevin Kiermaier homered. He went 5-for-12 with a couple knocked in on his first weekend back following a two-month absence, so he definitely landed on his feet. Seattle took two of three from the Rays, however, and remains one and a half games back of the Angels and Twins for the second Wild Card. Tampa Bay is four back.

Red Sox 5, Yankees 1Jackie Bradley Jr. drove in three with an RBI triple and an RBI single and Rick Porcello and three relievers allowed only one run on three hits. Boston extends its lead over New York to five games after taking two of three from the Yankees.

Athletics 3, Astros 2: How are things going for the Astros lately? Like this, mostly:

That’s how two of the A’s three runs scored. The third: on a passed ball. Woof.

Cubs 6, Blue Jays 5: It was tied 3-3 heading into the 10th inning and then the Jays scored two. Most times that’d be enough to win an extra innings game — in fact, per ESPN, teams with multi-run leads in extra innings were 50-0 this season before yesterday — but the Cubs scored three, with one coming in on a wild pitch and two coming in on Alex Avila‘s walkoff single. Two of the Cubs base runners that frame reached on strikeout/wild pitch combinations too. Not an inning Roberto Osuna will remember fondly.

White Sox 3, Rangers 2: Miguel Gonzalez shut the Rangers out for six and two relievers made it eight shutout innings in all. Texas made it close in the ninth thanks to a two-run homer from Rougned Odor, but it was too little too late. Tyler Saladino doubled in two runs for Chicago in their three-run fourth inning, Omar Narvaez singled in the other one.

Brewers 8, Rockies 4Jesus Aguilar hit two homers, driving in three and scored three times. Keon Broxton knocked in a couple of runs with a single. Chase Anderson allowed one run and two hits in five innings in his first start since late June.

Phillies 5, Giants 2: Pedro Florimon doubled in a run early and hit two-run single late to give the Phillies the lead. Rhys Hoskins homered for some insurance in the ninth, his fifth in 11 games. If you’re really bad, having one young kid come up late in the year and look good is a pretty decent silver lining on that cloud. No word what the Giants are doing for silver linings these days.

Nationals 4, Padres 1: Gio Gonzalez allowed one run on five hits — all singles — and struck out eight in six and two-thirds. Daniel Murphy drove in two of the Nats four runs. The Nats took three of four from San Diego.

Pirates 6, Cardinals 3: Josh Bell homered and drove in four runs in the first ever Little League Classic, which took place on a converted Little League field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, not far from the Little League World Series. Coolest part, aside from the fact that the players all hung out with Little Leaguers all day and the Little Leaguers getting front row seats at the game: after it was over, the major leaguers lined up on the field and did the “good game” high five line, just like you did when you were 12. The highlights, with the handshake at the end: