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YORK -- Giancarlo Stanton caught himself fairly quickly, though not quite immediately. With more than eight weeks remaining in the Miami Marlins' season, the slugger realized he was talking about the 2012 season in the past tense.
The campaign began with the highest preseason hopes this young franchise has had. Now with eight weeks of games still to play, Stanton had to stop himself from talking about it as though October had already come and gone with the Marlins nowhere to be seen.
Stanton sat out a full month due to a knee injury, returning on Tuesday night in a 4-2 win against the Mets. He watched his team slip from the fringes of contention to a distant fourth place in the National League East. He watched while his teammates lost sight of the playoff race and while five players were traded from the Major League roster.
Stanton came back to a team that looks much different from the one for which he played in July, and nearly unrecognizable from the team that roared through May and held a playoff position in early June. Now talk is of next year, and of who will still be around when the 2013 season comes.
"We didn't give up," Stanton said. "We didn't try too hard. We didn't get it done. [But] the season's not over. You can't say that the season's over, but we didn't live up to expectations."
There are still games to play -- more than 50 of them, in fact. Stanton showed on Tuesday that he's ready to try play in the bulk of them. There's a good bit of gloom around the Marlins these days, but that's about the best news they could get.
The third-year slugger was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a sacrifice fly on Tuesday. He didn't exactly blow up the box score, but he made a contribution. And there's no denying that the Miami lineup looks much different when it features Stanton than when it does not.
"Huge difference," said Jose Reyes. "Stanton, he's the power in the middle of our lineup. It's huge having him back. It's even better now."
It's fair to note that the Marlins started their dive with Stanton in the lineup. He played through a brutal June in which the club fell from one of the league's best records to a sub-.500 mark. But as the All-Star break approached, it appeared that maybe the Marlins had stabilized. They had won eight of 12 through July 6. On July 7, Stanton got hurt.
Miami went 8-17 with him on the disabled list, washing away that modest progress and relegating most conversations about hopes for this year into the past tense. Perhaps with Stanton in the fold, the club can at least show some progress and give the front office reason to believe in the 2013 Marlins.
That would not be an insignificant accomplishment. There's going to be a great deal of re-evaluating over the winter. The club expressed confidence in next season by not shipping out Josh Johnson or Ricky Nolasco in the course of dealing, keeping players who could be part of a contender in '13.
Stanton is certainly central to those hopes as well, of course. He and Reyes are the centerpieces of the offense, and rarely this year have they been clicking at the same time. Reyes' hitting streak began two games after Stanton got hurt -- before that, he was hitting .264 with a .336 on-base percentage.
If Stanton can find his form quickly, while Reyes maintains his, it will give fans and the front office a glimpse of what's possible, not only from the 2013 Marlins but maybe from the '12 edition as well.