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The Marlins Are Actually Interesting for a Change, That's Why they Have to Push for the Playoffs

Now that they've lost Giancarlo Stanton for the rest of the season the Marlins have to do something to show they're serious about making the playoffs.

Steven Goldman

For baseball teams, pursuing the wild card route to the playoffs is like going into an Adam Sandler movie blind. Sure, maybe Pixels or The Cobbler will turn out to be the next Taxi Driver—or even the next Quick Change—but it's much more likely that it will be an Adam Sandler movie, and that you'll have wasted your time and money. This has been doubly true since 2012, when the wild-card play-in game was added to the October menu. On any given day, the 1927 Yankees can lose one game and the 1962 Mets can win one; staking some Major Prospect—that's his name, Major Prospect, and he'll be available once he fulfills his military commitment—on an August 31 trade for Coco Crisp because you think Coco might somehow help you qualify for that one game is a poor bet. You'd rather have six years of almost anyone than 30 games of a desiccated elder statesman followed by the extreme likelihood of losing an October game to Madison Bumgarner.

Unless, that is, you're the Marlins and you just lost Giancarlo Stanton to a season-ending grade-three groin strain. The Marlins have been swapping the second National League wild-card spot with the Cardinals and Pirates over the past few weeks. Normally you might say, "Let 'em have it," call this first year under Don Mattingly a success. It wouldn't be a stretch: between Ichiro Suzuki's 3,000th hit, some good individual performances, and (likely) breaking a skein of six straight losing seasons, things were actually interesting in Miami for a change. Even better for those turned off by whiny rich people, Jeff Loria has made it into August without crying poverty and trading half the roster. Baby steps.

That's why the Marlins, perhaps unlike any other team, have to make a push now that injuries have deleted not only Stanton, but also starting pitcher Adam Conley, who is on the disabled list due to tendinitis in a finger of his pitching hand. The Marlins don't have many position players in the minors ready to contribute right now, so help is not likely to come from that direction—they presently have only three outfielders on the major league roster; when Stanton was disabled their response was to call up alumnus Robert Andino, who (a) hasn't been thought worthy of a major league roster spot since 2013, and (b) at .232/.294/.318 career is basically the Anti-Stanton. As pennant-race moves go, this is not serious.

Replacing Stanton with Ol' Ichiro isn't serious either, despite his status as a treasure of two nations. Ichiro has had one of the finest seasons ever by a 42-year-old, but as a baseball ancient he's liable to wilt in the summer heat. This is what happened last year, when injuries forced him into regular playing time and he crashed to 205/.257/.258 in 312 plate appearances over the last three months. His final .229/.282/.279 in 438 PAs was one of the worst seasons in the history of outfielders. The more the Marlins expose him the more likely it is to flicker and fade.

The Marlins cannot afford to be unserious; they cannot be the Sandler film that reveals itself to in fact be a Sandler film. Even with their decent showing this year and whatever interest Ichiro's pursuit of a Big Round Number created, they're still last in the NL in attendance. Maybe that's just how they roll in Miami; Florida is different. And yet, the apathy that keeps Miami's turnstiles idle may also be an expression of Won't Get Fooled Again Syndrome engendered in a fanbase that has seen a couple of World Series wins but also multiple heedless, high-speed teardowns. Miguel Cabrera is going to go into the Hall of Fame with a Tigers cap on his plaque, and if you're a Marlins fan and don't resent that, you're either a Vulcan or a masochist.

It has long seemed like the team's only route to legitimacy is a new owner who would start out with more credibility. Failing that, they could make an effort at a waiver trade. Any player whose contract is big enough to go through waivers unclaimed—Ryan Braun, say, or Melky Cabrera (Note: Melky is due to make $15 million next year, and why does the fellow who approved that still have a job?)—would automatically become the highest-paid player on the Marlins, but that's at least partially the point. It shows commitment.

And it probably still wouldn't work, but it would be a more dignified way to go than wringing the last drop of sweat from Ichiro. The Marlins' two championship teams reached the World Series via the wild card. It's harder than it used to be, but again, Florida is an exotic place and the laws of reality do not apply there quite as heavily as they do elsewhere. It's time to throw off these Sandlerian rags, which is to say that this movie should treat its pursuit of excellence not as an option, but as an obligation.