The recent histories of the Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins are ones that the two clubs would probably like to be left untold. The Phillies haven’t finished any season with a winning record since their last playoff campaign of 2011; they’ve lost at least 89 games in each of the past three seasons. As for the Marlins, they haven’t finished with a record above .500 since 2009, and they’ve have failed to reach the postseason in any of the last 12 seasons (they won the World Series in 2003).
While baseball’s recent past hasn’t been kind to the cities of Miami and Philadelphia, the early days of the 2016 season are ringing songs of cautious optimism for the two NL East clubs. In a top heavy NL East that features two World Series contenders in the New York Mets and Washington Nationals, both the Phillies and Marlins have remained in the race through the first quarter of the new season.
Each club currently has a record that is multiple games above the .500 mark, putting them leaps and bounds ahead of their pace in recent seasons. It’s still early, but seeing these two franchises win games on a consistent basis makes you wonder how long the success for either side will last.
As the two division rivals continue their second series of the season against one another this week, let’s take a look at just how good each team is and whether or not one (or both) can threaten the Nationals or Mets in the NL East once September rolls around.
How good are the Phillies?
When you look at the stats for the Phillies, it’s kind of difficult to understand how they’ve gotten off to such a solid start this season. The team has a batting average that ranks 26th in baseball, as they’ve scored the second-fewest runs in the game and have also hit the second-fewest home runs. With that, it’s understandable that the Phillies have a negative run differential of minus-30 (only three teams are worse in the National League).
Yet, the play of guys like Odubel Herrera, who owns a .333 batting average, and Maikel Franco, who has seven home runs and 23 RBI, has kept the Phillies’ offense somewhat afloat, giving them a chance to win a numerous amount of one-run games so far this season (they are 14-2 in those type of games).
On the mound, the numbers are certainly better for Philadelphia than they are at the plate. They own the 12th best team ERA in the majors and have managed the most shutouts in the game as well with six so far. Starters Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola have both been great with ERAs under 3.00, and closer Jeanmar Gomez has managed 15 saves — the most in the majors. All of their success on the mound explains the Phillies’ terrific mark in close games.
Even though their offense isn’t great by any means, the Phillies pitch well enough to stay competitive and keep games close. Their proven ability to shut the door when the score is close could keep them in the NL East race for the majority of the season. However, it’s tough to fall in love with this team because of how much they struggle at the plate.
What about the Marlins?
On paper, the Marlins appear to be the stronger team when compared to the Phillies. Their team batting average ranks fourth in baseball, although that hasn’t translated to a bunch of runs (they rank just 20th in runs scored).
The presence of the powerful Giancarlo Stanton, who has 11 home runs and 25 RBI so far in 2016, and guys like Christian Yelich and Martin Prado (who’s batting average of .374 is second in baseball) gives this offense the ability to put pressure on most opposing pitchers — even with the suspension of speedy leadoff hitter Dee Gordon.
Pitching wise, the Marlins are a middle-of-the-pack club with the 14th best team ERA in the game. Jose Fernandez is — without a doubt — one of the best arms in the game, and his 3.21 ERA to go along with five wins and 69 strikeouts supports that claim. The guys behind Fernandez in Miami’s starting rotation leaves much to be desired, however.
In the bullpen, closer A.J. Ramos has been mostly dominant with 12 saves and a 1.59 ERA. So, too, has relief pitcher David Phelps with his 1.50 ERA in 21 appearances. Basically, things could be better on the mound for the Marlins, but they also could be much worse. Overall, the talent is there for the Marlins to compete in the NL East. Whether or not that talent will continue to produce results throughout the summer remains to be seen, however.
Does either team have a shot in the NL East?
If either of these teams want to compete for a playoff spot out of the NL East, they will have to play well against the Nationals and Mets. So far this season, the Phillies have played two series against both of those teams, losing one series to each and winning one against each. The Marlins have already played 10 games against the Nationals (and are 5-5 in those games) and three against the Mets (and are 2-1).
Clearly, both teams have proved they can play with the top teams in the NL East, potentially indicating that the division could be a four-team race. While there are things to like about both the Marlins and the Phillies, it’s likely that at least one of these teams will fall off the radar once the intensity of the season picks up and the games become more important.
Based on talent alone, we have to pick the Marlins to have a more realistic shot to compete in the NL East throughout the season. It’s not to discount the Phillies’ start, but relying on winning one-run games can only get you so far. Regardless, fans in Miami and Philadelphia should be excited about their baseball teams this summer — the first time in several years. That’s always a good thing for the game.