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Playoffs? Playoffs? For the Miami Marlins? Such a prediction wasn¡¯t outlandish for those who made it. The team was coming off a 77-win season with one of the most promising young cores in MLB. With veterans like Martin Prado, along with what appeared to be savvy offseason acquisitions in Mike Morse, Ichiro Suzuki and Mat Latos, the Marlins appeared to be a club that could get a jump on the Mets and Cubs and contend for the NL¡¯s second wild-card spot. Unfortunately, they looked more like the same ol¡¯ Marlins.Preseason Prediction: The Marlins are going to be in the mix for a playoff spot. They¡¯re probably just a notch below the Nats for NL East superiority. They should very well be in the mix for one of the wild card spots, provided they can stay healthy and Stanton bounces back. They¡¯ve built up a contender in South Beach, and this team is certainly that on paper. (Randy Holt, Feb. 24)What Went Right: There weren¡¯t many standouts in the Marlins¡¯ lineup this season, but Dee Gordon had a breakout year in his first year with the team. The second baseman is currently tied for second in the NL with a .327 average and still has a chance at a batting title. Gordon is also one of two players to crack 50 stolen bases this season, though he¡¯ll finish second to the Reds¡¯ Billy Hamilton. He¡¯s also been caught stealing 16 times, leading MLB, so maybe he takes too many chances, but betting on his speed seems like a safe gamble.
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Jose Fernandez also returned from Tommy John surgery in July and showed he¡¯s still one of the elite young pitchers in baseball. Though he was sidelined again with a strained biceps that kept him out five weeks, the 23-year-old has been dominant in eight starts, posting a 2.06 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 48 innings. Fernandez could conceivably make six more starts through the rest of the season, though the Marlins will obviously monitor his workload closely. If there¡¯s a bright side to the team not contending, it¡¯s that there¡¯s no pressure to pitch their prized arm as much as possible down the stretch.What Went Wrong: Firing manager Mike Redmond less than 40 games into the season was a desperate attempt to fire up a team that wasn¡¯t playing up to expectations. But bringing general manager Dan Jennings down from the front office into the dugout, whose field managing experience was coaching a high school team in the 1980s? What could go wrong there? It was a decision doomed to fail, borne of owner Jeffrey Loria¡¯s impatience and arrogance. Jennings¡¯ lack of experience was a huge obstacle for players to overcome, and made the Marlins a resented target of veteran managers throughout MLB.Though the Marlins were already a disappointment by the time Giancarlo Stanton suffered a broken bone in his left hand (11 games out of first place in the NL East), there was no way the team could compete for a playoff spot without its best hitter in the lineup. Stanton was on his way to a monster season, slugging 27 home runs and compiling a .952 OPS in just 74 games (318 plate appearances). He still leads Miami in home runs and RBI despite not playing since June 26, which helps explain how unproductive the Marlins offense has been this year.Ultimately, just too many poor performances throughout the lineup and pitching staff let the Marlins down. Neither Christian Yelich nor Marcell Ozuna built upon promising 2014 seasons. Mike Morse was a vast disappointment before being traded, batting .213 with four home runs. Both Mat Latos and Jarred Cosart posted ERAs well above 4.00. And Steve Cishek cratered so badly that he was demoted to Double-A and eventually dealt away.Most Surprising Player: With Mike Morse expected to be the Marlins¡¯ first baseman, Justin Bour began the season in the minor leagues. But Morse¡¯s poor play, along with Bour¡¯s solid numbers in Triple-A (.756 OPS) earned him a call-up in April. Since then, the 27-year-old first baseman has been a mainstay in the lineup, providing the Marlins¡¯ only notable power threat. His 16 home runs are twice the number of any other Miami everyday player not named Giancarlo Stanton.
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He could provide a nice left-right combination in the middle of the lineup next season, especially since the Marlins don¡¯t have anyone else another left-handed power bat.Most Disappointing Player: Marcell Ozuna was expected to be part of what looked like the best young outfield in MLB, coming off a 2014 during which he hit 26 doubles and 23 home runs with 85 RBI. But after hitting only four homers with a .337 slugging percentage by early July, the Marlins sent the 24-year-old down to the minors. Ozuna spent five weeks in Triple-A, which he likened to being in jail. Since returning to the majors, he¡¯s shown some power, slugging .473 with four home runs. In September, Ozuna has been especially productive, posting a .265/.324/.471 slash average. Once again, he looks like a budding star. But can he take this into next season and give Stanton some help?The Future: The Marlins have most of the same roster that made them a sleeper playoff pick coming back next season. Presuming that Stanton and Fernandez stay healthy, while Yelich and Ozuna continue to develop, and the front office (whether it¡¯s Jennings as GM, or a replacement such as assistant GM Mike Berger or director of pro scouting Jeff McAvoy) finds better veteran complements than Morse, Latos, Suzuki and Dan Haren, Miami should again be a fledgling contender in the NL East and wild-card races.Upgrading the starting rotation will be a key. Fernandez is a clear No. 1 with Tom Koehler slotting somewhere behind him as a third or fourth starter, but the Marlins could really use another top-of-the-rotation starter to help lead the staff and reduce the burden on Fernandez, who will still have to be monitored closely. While Loria probably won¡¯t shell out big cash for one of the top free agent starting pitchers available, there are plenty of second-tier arms that can help bolster the rotation.The National League figures to be just as, if not more, competitive next season with the emergence of the Mets and Cubs as contenders and potential powerhouses, along with the Nationals, Pirates, Giants and Padres figuring to compete for the available wild-card spots. It might not be until 2017 before the Marlins can realistically contend, depending on who the team hires as its next manager, who runs the show in the front office and which players can be signed to help. Watching other teams leapfrog them in the standings has to be discouraging for the Marlins, but with a MVP candidate and Cy Young Award contender to build around, Miami is still in a good place.