The Miami Marlins' season appeared to end -- at least their slim hopes for a spot in the postseason did -- on May 9. That was the game in which Jose Fernandez suffered a season-ending elbow injury in a 10-1 loss to the San Diego Padres. They were 20-16 when Fernandez was injured, a solid start for a team nobody expected to contend, the offense producing far better than expected. But how do you replace an ace, even a 21-year-old ace?
You don't. You can't.
But maybe the Marlins can try. Maybe the Marlins should be pursuing Jeff Samardzija. After beating the Nationals on Wednesday, they're only a half-game behind the Braves. It's late May and they're right there.
* * * *
The Marlins should have lost Wednesday's game to the Washington Nationals. God knows they tried to give it away. They led 4-0 after touching up Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann for four runs in the fourth, but the Nationals scored three in the sixth, the third run coming on first baseman Garrett Jones' throwing error with two outs. In the eighth, the game now tied, Casey McGehee got picked off first base with Giancarlo Stanton on second. In the bottom of that inning, Mike Dunn walked the first two batters and then threw wild on Denard Span's bunt to load the bases; he somehow escaped. They allowed three runners in the ninth, but Stanton gunned down Wilson Ramos trying to stretch a single into a double and the Nationals again failed to score.
The Marlins finally pulled out the win with a four-run 10th inning. This is just one game and maybe it will be forgotten in a week, but it's one of those games that playoff teams find a way to win. I know that's not a sabermetric thing to say and there's no science or numbers behind that statement, and the Marlins probably had a win or two like this last season when they lost 100 games and finished 34 games out of first place. But they won a game when it appeared they would stumble into a loss, and maybe that counts for something.
There were two key moments. In that eighth inning, after Dunn struck out Anthony Rendon and got Jayson Werth to pop up to third, he had a great duel with Adam LaRoche, as LaRoche fouled off four pitches before finally bouncing out.
In the 10th, Ed Lucas singled to lead off the inning and Christian Yelich walked. Derek Dietrich is up. Stanton is on deck. If you bunt, you take the bat out of Stanton's hands. What do you do? Marlins manager Mike Redmond went old school and had Dietrich bunt. I think I'd have let Dietrich swing away -- yes, you want to get that runner to third, but even if Dietrich fails to move up the runners, then the Nationals have to pitch to Stanton.
But Redmond also trusts McGehee, who has just one home run but has been a terror with runners in scoring position. After the Nationals went ahead and intentionally walked Stanotn, McGehee singled sharply to left and Reed Johnson doubled over Jayson Werth's head, and that was pretty much the ballgame. In the end, the bunt worked out, I guess. Like I said, one of those games.
* * * *
OK, Samardzija. The rumors are out there, of course: Blue Jays, Rangers, Yankees and others. But why not the Marlins? Yes, owner Jeffrey Loria isn't the most likely candidate to take on salary, but Samardzija is only making $5.3 million this year. Plus, there are reports the Toronto Blue Jays might not want to add much to their already sky-high $137 million-plus payroll. And while Samardzija is likely to get around $14 million in arbitration next year, the Marlins could always trade him after this season if they can't afford that salary.
Anyway, the Marlins are second in the NL right now in runs per game -- pretty amazing considering last year's league-worst offense. Much of that is due of course to the wonderfully awesome and powerful Mr. Stanton, who went 1-for-2 with three walks as the Nationals basically pitched around him whenever they could. He is now hitting .318/.413/.621, has hit several home runs that landed near Mount Rushmore, and is in that early season MVP discussion along with Troy Tulowitzki and Yasiel Puig.
The question is whether the supporting cast can keep it going. McGehee, for example, has 32 RBIs thanks to a .439 average with runners in scoring position. Overall, however, the offense hit .266/.331/.411 in April and has hit .261/.331/.422 in May, so it's been consistent. And it's probably easier to trade for an arm than an impact bat.
Without Fernandez, the rotation is the area that could be upgraded, especially with Wednesday starter Henderson Alvarez leaving after five scoreless innings with elbow stiffness (please, nothing more severe than that). Nathan Eovaldi and Tom Koehler have been solid, but they could use a No. 1. Enter Samardzija. A trade package would have to begin with top prospect Andrew Heaney, but what do the Marlins have to lose? In a lackluster NL East, where neither the Braves or Nationals look like 95-win powerhouses at this point, you never know. Go for it while you still have Stanton around.
And if you can't get Samardzija? Go give the Rays a call about David Price.
It's late May and your team is a half-game out of first place, Jeffrey Loria. Do you want to win?