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USATSI

The Miami Marlins on Thursday night prevailed over the Baltimore Orioles (MIA 8, BAL 7) and in doing pushed their 2020 record to a surprising 6-1. In the process Marlins manager Don Mattingly made franchise history, becoming the winningest Marlins manager of all-time.

Mattingly's won 282 games as Marlins skipper, which nudges him past Jack McKeon on the franchise wins list. It must be noted that Mattingly is also the franchise leader in losses (371) by a large margin. Yes, it's a bit odd that a manager with a win percentage of .432 is the franchise leader in victories, but consider the context: the Marlins have been around for just 28 years, are more than 300 games under .500 over that span, and have dealt with a number of self-inflicted upheavals. So, yes, Don Mattingly is presently 89 games below the waterline as Marlins skipper, but he's also the franchise wins leader. 

Now, though, let's get back to those 6-1 2020 Marlins. That mark in tandem with the very reasonable expectation that the Marlins would be a bad team in 2020 have conspired to make Mattingly's squadron the most pleasant of surprises in the early going. Their .857 winning percentage at present is tops in the National League, and that's despite serious roster churn because of the COVID-19 outbreak that saw 18 Marlins players test positive for the virus. Speaking of which, please "admire" their transaction list from Aug. 4 alone

Aug 4, 2020Monte HarrisonRFCalled Up from Minors
Aug 4, 2020Sandy AlcantaraSPPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Sean Rodriguez3BPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Josh SmithRPPurchased From Minors
Aug 4, 2020Jordan YamamotoSPCalled Up from Minors
Aug 4, 2020Eddy AlvarezSSPurchased From Minors
Aug 4, 2020Ryne StanekRPPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Matt JoyceLFRemoved From 10-Day IL (Undisclosed injury)
Aug 4, 2020Lewis BrinsonCFRemoved From 10-Day IL (Undisclosed injury)
Aug 4, 2020Nick VincentRPPurchased From Minors
Aug 4, 2020Chad WallachCPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Jorge GuzmanSPCalled Up from Minors
Aug 4, 2020Jeff BrighamRPPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Adam ConleyRPPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Yimi GarciaRPPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Josh SmithRPCalled Up from Minors
Aug 4, 2020Justin ShaferRPCalled Up from Minors
Aug 4, 2020Caleb SmithSPPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Ryan LavarnwayCPurchased From Minors
Aug 4, 2020Daniel CastanoRPPurchased From Minors
Aug 4, 2020Nick NeidertRPPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Robert DuggerSPPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))
Aug 4, 2020Miguel RojasSSPlaced on 10-Day IL (COVID-19 injured list (positive test))

The Marlins are also 6-1 despite the fact that they've yet to play a home game. 

So are the Marlins for real? At this juncture, the only sensible answer is "probably not." Thanks for reading. 

Actually, let's be a bit less dismissive than that and marshal the case for each side. Forthwith ... 

The Marlins are legit

  • That 6-1 record is backed up by a plus-nine run differential, which is a strong figure through seven games played. 
  • A 6-1 start is impressive in any context, and it's much more the case at the outset of an abbreviated 60-game regular season schedule. Scaled to the usual 162-game slate, it's like starting the season 16-3. 
  • With that start, Miami has drastically improved their odds of making the expanded 16-team playoffs. According to FanGraphs, the Marlins had a meager 2.5 percent chance of making the postseason going into Opening Day. Now that figure has vaulted to 20.3 percent. Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but in the context of what we knew about the Marlins coming into 2020 -- they lost 105 games a season ago -- a one-in-five shot at playoff baseball is notable indeed. 
  • It bears repeating that the Marlins' roster right now is deeply compromised because of the COVID-19 outbreak. That presumably won't be the case for much longer. 

The Marlins are still the Marlins we know

Four of their six wins have come against the Orioles, who, respectable start aside, are almost certainly going to be terrible this season.

  • If you look beyond run differential at the BaseRuns standings available at FanGraphs, which correct for some of the sequencing and clustering effects inherent in a team's runs scored and runs allowed, you'll find that the Marlins haven't been quite as impressive this season. At that level, they've played more like a 3-4 team. Outrunning your fundamental performance indicators by three full games at this early hour is a bit of a red flag. As such, the Marlins are regression candidates moving forward. 
  • Yes, winning six out of seven is commendable and as we've seen needle-moving at the outset of a 60-game season. However, the shape of the sport is such that aberrant runs are an indelible part of it. Last season, for instance, the 106-win Dodgers at one point lost six in a row. Likewise, the 105-loss Marlins in 2019 at one point won six in a row. It's an unsatisfying answer in some respects, but you rarely go wrong by explaining short-run results with, "Hey, that's just baseball, and baseball is weird." 

So where does all of this leave the 2020 Marlins? With enhanced playoff hopes but still unlikely to be a part of the postseason fray. Keep eking out wins in a compressed schedule, though, and those expectations will continue to shift.