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This Marlins baseball season has been trying for Marlins fans. On the one hand, the team is half a game back from the final wildcard spot. On the other hand, the team has been on a losing streak since the beginning of the second half of this season. Some Marlins fans on Twitter have been screaming that this team is a fraud. Yet, we are missing the bigger picture. My question for Marlins’ fans is this: Would you rather have this team fighting for a playoff spot, or would you instead that this team quit on the season and go through the motions as they did in the past?
As much as I am disappointed with this team, I am optimistic. Why? This team is learning some tough lessons. Primarily, how to become a winning ballclub and handle “playoff pressure.” Because the Marlins are in contention for the last playoff spot, every team they have played or will play for the remainder of the season will take them more seriously. Why? Because they are either fighting for a playoff spot or trying to get a better seeding in the playoffs. For the Marlins, the room for error is shrinking if they want to clinch a wild card spot.
The primary reason why I am optimistic is that the second half of this team’s schedule is considerably more challenging than the first half. The second half schedule can be broken down into elite, fighting for a division or a wild card, and spoilers. In the case of the teams classified as elite and fighting for a division or a wild card, each series carries the pressure of playoff baseball.
Elite teams have an excellent record both at home and on the road. Baltimore, Atlanta, Houston, and Tampa have a minimum of thirty wins at home and on the road. These teams are the elite because of their respective home and road records. Playing these teams is a measuring stick of how far the gap is between us and becoming a consistent playoff team.
Besides the elite teams, the Marlins have San Diego, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee on their schedule. These teams are hunting for a division title or the wild card spot. An excellent home or a great road record keeps these teams in contention. In the case of these teams, they all have an excellent home record. Who is hosting the Marlins in this group? All of them. Playing these teams tells us how we measure against teams like us, fighting for a wild card spot.
Finally, we have the spoilers. Believe it or not, the Yankees, the Mets, the Pirates, and the Nationals may be the “easier” games. However, I do not expect these games to be easy because they could play spoiler to the Marlins playoff chances if they are still in contention.
Given these facts regarding the schedule, does this mean we will excuse their performance this second half of the season? No. The losing streak, including a sweep by the Cardinals and the loss of the home series to the Rockies-two teams that they should have beaten, indicates that the old habits of this team in past seasons are emerging. There needs to be a sense of urgency and confidence. The benefit of this second-half schedule is that this type of schedule teaches the importance of being focused one game at a time and developing confidence because you have been through difficult times. Having a sense of urgency, being focused, and developing confidence helped the Miami Heat and the Florida Panthers in their playoff runs. It is what made them resilient. I am concerned that this team is not learning these lessons. Instead, they are treating the second half of the season like every second half of the season: “There is nothing to play for; let’s get this season over.” If my assessment is correct, this is a shame, and changes need to be made next season.
Besides how the team responds to this pressure, the front office has a good measuring stick for assessing the team’s needs for the next season. The additions of Bell and Burger are great. But, if the Marlins want to be considered a playoff-contending team, we need to make some changes, whether we clinch the wild card or not. Any trades or free agent signings that the Marlins make need to focus on more than the statistics. We need players who can teach this team how to handle the playoff pressure and play with a sense of urgency.
As disappointing as this second half has been, I would rather see how this team handles the pressure of facing quality playoff teams and treating each series like a playoff series. If the team learns how to handle this playoff pressure and clinch a wild card spot, then this team has taken the next step of becoming a good baseball team. However, if this team learns to play under this pressure, the front office can make some changes this coming offseason. Changes in which the team can learn and handle the stress of being a playoff team.
Photo by Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins