MIAMI (AP) — Don Mattingly’s first team meeting with the Miami Marlins this spring was short, sweet and had just one primary point.
He told them they can win.
Mattingly wasn’t exactly breaking new ground in leadership tactics with that take, but there was a reason why he wanted that to be the message. A year ago, everything went wrong for the Marlins. A team coming off a playoff series win in 2020 plummeted to near the bottom of baseball, never spent a single day over .500 and was basically out of the race by the All-Star break.
That was then. And Mattingly insists that it isn’t rah-rah, hope-springs-eternal pablum when he says there’s reason to believe things will change in 2022.
“I think we can win,” said Mattingly, the Marlins’ manager. “I think that’s the key. I think we believe we can. Other than that, it’s just talking. Our group believes it. Now we’ve got to go prove it. We’ve got to go execute. We’ve got to do the things it takes to win.”
For these Marlins, that means hit.
The art of swinging bats and striking baseballs was a challenge for the Marlins a year ago. Swinging bats and striking out, that was easy. Miami batters struck out nearly 10 times per game last season, the second-worst clip of any MLB club, and the team scored the second-fewest runs as well.
So, bats were acquired. Reigning World Series MVP Jorge Soler headlines the group, which includes fellow outfielders Avisaíl García and Joey Wendle, along with catcher Jacob Stallings. There’s no massive acquisition in there, but general manager Kim Ng said the Marlins’ plan is a calculated one designed for sustained success.
“For fans to go on a roller coaster is not the best way to necessarily build your brand, build your club,” Ng said. “So that’s why we’ve chosen to build the farm system and add when we felt we needed to. And that’s the stage that we’re at now.”
The rotation should be a strength, anchored by ace right-hander Sandy Alcantara. Trevor Rogers was an All-Star last season as a rookie and Pablo Lopez missed half the season with a rotator cuff problem — but was activated to start a season finale last October that served as a springboard into his offseason.
“I believe we can win,” Mattingly said. “Our coaching staff believes we can win. I feel like our players believe that we can win. And that’s really what matters the most.”
The Marlins’ strength is the starting pitching, led by Alcantara, Lopez and Rogers. Miami went 31-18 last year when it got a quality start — six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs — and with the DH coming to the NL this year it’s reasonable to think that Mattingly might be inclined to let his starters go a bit deeper into games than they did in past years since their spot in the batting order will no longer be an issue. Alcantara signed a $56 million, five-year contract late last year and said he accepts he must take an even larger leadership role now.
Miami was 19-38 last season against teams that went on to make baseball’s postseason and batted just .221 in those 57 games. But a dive into those numbers gives more credence to the argument that Miami’s pitching is a strength. The Marlins had a 4.09 ERA against playoff-bound clubs; that was seventh-best in baseball and basically comparable to World Series champion Atlanta’s 4.02 ERA against playoff teams.
Infielder Jazz Chisholm’s numbers at the plate tended to mirror how things went for the Marlins last season. When he was good, so was Miami. When he wasn’t, so was Miami. Chisholm batted .301 in wins, .209 in losses. His on-base percentage was .359 in wins, .260 in losses. “I want to see consistency from Jazz,” Mattingly said.
Miami opens with 18 of its first 24 games against teams that were over .500 last season. But if the Marlins are going to have any chance of contending for anything, they’ve got to be much better on the road, too. Miami’s 25-56 road mark last season was better than only Pittsburgh (24-57), Texas (24-57) and Arizona (20-61).
Another overlooked number that must get better: fielding percentage. Miami’s .979 clip last year was the worst in baseball, and the Marlins’ 122 errors were 14 more than any other club. Boston committed the second-most, 108.
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