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Quietly, the Marlins are right in the thick of the NL wild-card race

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

MVP candidate Giancarlo Stanton has the Marlins in the thick of the NL wild-card race.
MVP candidate Giancarlo Stanton has the Marlins in the thick of the NL wild-card race. (USATSI)

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For the last several weeks, the National League postseason picture has focused on the fades of the Giants and Braves, who went from division leaders to wild-card hopefuls as the summer progressed. They are now stuck competing with the Cardinals and Pirates for the wild-card spots as the Brewers maintain their NL Central lead.

Those are not the only wild-card contenders in the NL, however. There is another team within striking distance. Here are the current wild-card standings in the senior circuit:

Yes, the Marlins are only 3.5 games back of the second wild-card spot following Wednesday afternoon's loss (TEX 5, MIA 4), 1.5 games behind the Pirates. The next team behind the Marlins is the Reds, who are six back of a wild-card spot. The Marlins and the other wild-card contenders have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.

Miami has gained three games in the wild-card race in the last two weeks thanks to eight wins in 12 games. They are 19-13 since the All-Star break overall, the third best record in the NL and sixth best record in baseball overall. The Marlins have beaten up on bad teams in the second half -- 7-2 against the Astros, Diamondbacks and Rangers -- which is exactly what they needed to do.

Now, there is some luck -- I really hate the word "luck," it gets overused these days, but it will always exist in a game that involves hitting a round ball with a round bat onto a big swath of grass -- involved as the Marlins have gone a ridiculous 32-19 in one-run games with 11 walk-off wins. That's an awful lot of close games that could have gone either way, yet most went to Miami. That's not to disparge them, those wins are in the books and they count, but the Marlins have definitely been a little fortunate.

Amazingly, the Fish have been able to stay in the postseason hunt without ace Jose Fernandez, who has has been out since May 9 after blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. He's been replaced by the likes of Andrew Heaney (6.53 ERA), Anthony DeSclafani (6.84 ERA), Jacob Turner (5.97 ERA) and, most recently, Brad Penny (4.50 ERA). Yes, that Brad Penny. I don't think it's a stretch to say the Marlins would be at least three games better than they are right now had Fernandez not gotten hurt, which means they'd be sitting in a wild-card spot.

The Marlins have managed to climb back into the thick of the postseason race but they still have a lot of ground to make up. So much so that FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus have the team's postseason odds at 4.8 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively. The easy part -- jumping over teams like the Reds and Padres -- is over. Getting by the Pirates, Giants et al will be more difficult.

The next three weeks or so will more or less determine if the Marlins are serious contenders or just a pretender on a hot streak. Here is their upcoming schedule:

The Marlins wrapped up their series with the awful Rangers on Wednesday and will play three games against the equally awful Rockies over the weekend, then they'll play 13 of their next 16 games against teams that range anywhere from good to great (sorry, Mets). That stretch includes three on the road against the Angels, who have baseball's best record, six against the Braves, and four on the road against the Brewers. That's rough.

Believe it or not, the Marlins have never won the NL East. Not once since joining the league in 1993. They've been to the postseason as the wild-card team only twice -- won the World Series both times! -- and they have a very real chance to do it a third time in 2014. If they do go to the postseason, they'll have done it without their ace and only two years after one of their patented "trade every veteran" rebuilds. That would be pretty remarkable in this age of long, draw out rebuilds. Just staying in the postseason picture three-fourths of the way through the season is impressive for this group.

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