The Miami Marlins were one of baseball’s toughest teams to project this season, and that was before Dee Gordon’s 80-game suspension or Giancarlo Stanton’s epic six-week slump.
Now though, they actually look like a team that could be a factor down the stretch, and that’s with the added knowledge that Gordon will return (though he’d still be ineligible for the postseason) and the hope that Stanton will return to form.
Aside from Jose Fernandez, who’s a lock for the All-Star game in San Diego, the two biggest reasons why Miami is hanging tough at 36-32 are Ichiro Suzuki and Marcell Ozuna. Both have been stabilizing forces in the Marlins lineup for several weeks, and both should have a chance to be factors again on Sunday when Miami takes on the Colorado Rockies in the MLB Free Game of the Day on Yahoo Sports.
It’s funny how baseball works sometimes. Coming into the 2016 season, Ozuna was assumed to be entering a make-or-break season under Miami’s employ. That was based on Marlins ownership and the front office growing frustrated enough to demote him to Triple-A just prior to last season’s All-Star break. Meanwhile, Ichiro was viewed as Miami’s clear fourth outfielder, with the only hopes for increased playing time being tied to Ozuna faltering or an injury.
That was the outlook in March anyway. Fast forward to June 19 and you’ll find that Ozuna has been far and away Miami’s most productive all-around hitter. Coming in to play on Sunday, Ozuna is second on the team in hits (79), tied with Stanton in home runs (12) and leads the team in RBIs (38). He’s also getting on base at a .367 clip, which is 59 points higher than last season.
Based on those numbers, there’s no doubt he’s worthy of All-Star consideration.
Ichiro, on the other hand, has seen his playing time increase exponentially, and it didn’t take a trade or injury. It took Stanton’s slump, first and foremost, and a need for the spark that Gordon usually provides. Ichiro has answered that call, just as he’s done throughout his storied career. He’s hitting .354, and he’s now a virtual lock to reach 3,000 hits while wearing a Marlins uniform. He’s currently 20 hits away.
Don Mattingly figures to lean heavily on both players for the foreseeable future now that their outfield has morphed into something of a four-man rotation with Christian Yelich also getting regular time. That should be especially true as long as Stanton slumps, though he’s shown signs of breaking out with five hits over his last two games.
If Stanton can get hot, if ichiro and Ozuna can stay hot, and if emerging hitters like J.T. Realmuto and Justin Bour continue producing, the Marlins suddenly look like a fun and dangerous team.
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