WASHINGTON -- In their season opener, the Marlins were held without a hit through five innings by Tigers ace Justin Verlander. And while it's true that Verlander is capable of doing that to any team, it was also a telltale reminder of a big reason why they finished far off
WASHINGTON -- In their season opener, the Marlins were held without a hit through five innings by Tigers ace Justin Verlander. And while it's true that Verlander is capable of doing that to any team, it was also a telltale reminder of a big reason why they finished far off the pace last season.
The Fish were next-to-last in the National League in both runs scored and home runs in 2015. Here comes the legal boilerplate: The season is still just three games old, a ridiculously small sample from which to draw conclusions. And yet, what has happened offensively since that inauspicious beginning has to add a note of encouragement for the Marlins.
They ended up scoring seven times in that game, despite losing in 11 innings. And after spoiling the Nationals' home opener with a 6-4 win Thursday, the Marlins are averaging 5.3 runs per game. They've also had at least 10 hits in each game this season.
"The guys swung the bats all day long," said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. "We've swung the bats pretty good all year, but we hadn't gotten out of the gate. We got out of the gate in this game."
The Marlins had four straight one-out singles in the top of the first against Nationals starter Tanner Roark as well as a two-out RBI single by catcher J.T. Realmuto to take a quick 3-0 lead. The Nationals came back to tie the score in the bottom of the first but, after a rain delay of an hour and 25 minutes, the Marlins kept tacking on with single runs in the third, fifth and seventh.
The most obvious difference from last season, of course, is Giancarlo Stanton. The big right fielder was leading the NL in homers and RBIs last season when he broke the hamate bone in his wrist. He didn't play after June 26, but announced his return in a big way with a towering two-run homer off Verlander.
Beyond that, the lineup is remarkably similar to the one that closed out last season. But just because the names are familiar, Mattingly expects to see more production.
"It's a young, talented crew. I think last year was a good year for them from a growing standpoint. A lot of bad things seemed to go on last year, but they overcame a lot, I think, during the season and kind of grew together," he said.
"I just think our guys are going to get better and better. They've all had individual years, right? Where they've all kind of been doing something. And we just have to put them all together. That's why last year a lot of people thought the Marlins [could contend]. Because they saw the talent. It's just a matter of us putting it together."
Center fielder Marcell Ozuna is 25, and many feel he's poised to have his breakout season. Left fielder Christian Yelich is only 24. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is 26.
"They have a lot of upside," said leadoff hitter Dee Gordon, who won the NL batting title last season. "They're guys who are just starting to scratch the surface of who they are as baseball players. We're all fairly young so we've just got to continue to learn. A lot of other teams have veteran hitters, veteran pitchers. We're going to learn on the fly.
"It's guys starting to figure themselves out. We've still got a little bit of things to figure out as a team. Which can bring optimism. That's the biggest thing. Just to continue to learn each other and learn ourselves."
Winning teams get contributions from all over the roster, so it was a subtly positive sign that the Marlins put up a six-spot Thursday even though Gordon only reached base once, on a walk, and Stanton had a pair of singles.
"The big key with the offense this year is each guy keeping his focus and concentrating on what we've got to do," said Hechavarria, who had a single and a double and drove in two runs out of the eight-hole. "We have our power hitters who are going to be in the middle of the lineup. But guys like myself, the contact guys, we've got to be able to step up in any situation whether we're batting first, second or eighth."
The Marlins are confident that they have a strong defense. They have Jose Fernandez back for an entire season to anchor their rotation and a bullpen that allowed just one run in the final eight innings Thursday when starter Adam Conley didn't return after the delay.
If the first three games are any indication of what the lineup is capable of, the Marlins could be a surprise team this season.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.