Minnesota Twins Host Surprising Miami Marlins

May 24, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) warms up in the outfield prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
May 24, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) warms up in the outfield prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins vs Miami Marlins Series Preview

Prior to the 2016 season, many pundits had the Marlins lucky to finish .500 in a very touch NL Eastern division, home to the pennant-winning Mets, and odds-on favorite for this year, the Washington Nationals.

Any success would depend upon a healthy return from their young slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, finding any pitching after Jose Fernandez, and another stellar season from 2015 NL batting champ, Dee Gordon.

While Stanton is healthy, his swing is not. He’s hit some prodigious home runs that make late night sports highlights, but his batting average is barely above the Mendoza line. His slash line of (.202 AVG / .318 OBP / .770 OPS) are all 60-125 points lower than his career averages.

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In the middle of winning 11 of 12 in late April-early May, the Marlins were stunned when All-Star second baseman, Gordon was suspended for 80 for PED’s. But Derek Dietrich has filled in more than admirably (.310 AVG) after the Marlins lost Gordon.

The off-season signing of Wei-Yin Chin from Baltimore has paid off after a shaky start. Chen is still struggling to keep his pitch counts down, averaging less than 6 innings per start. Young Adam Conley has given up only 3 home runs in 11 starts, and his 3.72 ERA gives the potent Marlins lineup a chance nearly every time out.

After looking over the evidence, one would assume the Marlins to be far back in the standings, well below the break even point.  Instead, Miami (30-27), sits just 4 games behind division-leading Washington, and just two behind the Mets. We’ll get into the hows and whys Miami is able to sit above .500 during our breakdown.

Tuesday Night Game

Adam Conley (3-3, 3.72 ERA) vs Pat Dean (1-2, 4.15 ERA)

7:10 CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Wednesday Night Game

Wei-Yin Chen (3-2, 4.25 ERA) vs Ricky Nolasco (2-4, 4.93 ERA)

7:10 CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Thursday Night Game

Tom Koehler (3-6, 4.50 ERA) vs Ervin Santana (1-5, 4.50 ERA)

7:10 CDT Target Field

TV: Fox Sports North

Miami: The ingredients behind the Marlins being above .500 despite all this, is the production they are getting from their outfield, even with Stanton’s slow start. Center fielder Marcell Ozuna has bounced back (.314 AVG, 11 HR) after a season which almost saw him bounced out of the organization. He leads the team in runs (35), total bases (117), and RBI (29) while second to Stanton in home runs.

Left fielder Christian Yelich has learned to cut down on his strike outs and put the ball in play more often. His .328 average leads the team and is good for fourth in the National League.

Offense: Miami ranks second-to-last in the NL in home runs, ahead of only the historically anemic Atlanta Braves. They also rank 12th in the NL in runs scored. In fact, in nearly every hitting statistic, the Marlins are in the bottom 3, 4 in every category. Except, that is, batting average. Their .266 team average ranks 4th in the NL, and 7th overall in the majors.

While they don’t have much power, they do get on base for the sluggers they do have. Stanton, Ozuna, and Justin Bour account for 32 of their team total of 48 home runs. That’s two thirds of their power production coming from just 3 hitters, who have accounted for only 27% of the total team at-bats.

Player to Watch: Marcell Ozuna. After a breakout 2014 season, Ozuna struggled mightily last year, earning a demotion to the minors while in the midst of a 1-36 stretch. His agent, Scott Boras, publicly derided the Miami organization for the move, and wanted Ozuna traded in the off-season. If they hadn’t been able to acquire Wei-Yin Chen via free agency, Miami probably would have.

Instead, Ozuna worked hard on his hitting during his stint in AAA, hitting over .300 and re-discovering his power. This year, Ozuna has put it altogether, hitting for average and power, leading the team in nearly every offensive category.

Pitching: The Marlins rank in the middle in most every pitching category but two. They rank near the bottom in walks allowed, averaging 4 walks/game. They do, however rank best in all of baseball in allowing home runs, giving up just 41 long balls in 57 games. The Twins have given up twice as many (82) by comparison.

Player to Watch: A.J. Ramos. Who? Ramos is tied for the ML lead with 18 saves in as many opportunities. A season after saving his first 32 games of his career, Ramos has proven nearly flawless in just his 4th full season in the majors. He’s yet to allow a home run, and he strikes out more than one batter per inning (10.88/9). His only blemish is his walks, which haven’t come back to haunt him yet this year.

Minnesota: After the four game winning streak, culminating in a series sweep in Seattle, the Minnesota Twins have backed that up by losing 6 of 7. Their 16 wins are nine lower than any other team in the American League, and is tied with the Atlanta Braves for the worst in the majors.

Some good news for the Twins is that they will miss facing Jose Fernandez, who beat the Mets on Sunday 1-0, collecting a career-high 14 strikeouts. But such luck did them little against the A’s, when the Twins faced their 3-4-5 starters, quite possibly the worst bottom of the rotation in the league, and were swept out of the Oakland Coliseum.

In facing the light-hitting Marlins, the Minnesota Twins hope to keep the ball in the park. They allowed four home runs in each of their losses over the weekend to the Rays. Rookie Pat Dean looks to bounce back in his fourth start. He had two quality starts with the Twins winning his first two career starts, before only lasting 5 innings, giving up 4 runs to Oakland last Wednesday.

Next: Molitor Wrong About Nunez

Notes: Hey, it looks like someone read my Twins Trends article yesterday! The Twins will move Robbie Grossman into second in the batting order, behind Eduardo Nunez. They moved slumping Brian Dozier down, but only to 5th, behind cleanup hitter, Trevor Plouffe.

Byron Buxton, after a career-tying 3 hits on Sunday, will continue to hit 9th as the Twins ease him back into the lineup. The Twins, after running on Tampa’s Hank Conger, will be facing J.T. Realmuto, who throws out 37% of opposing baserunners. Realmuto will be up against a speedy Twins team, lead by Nunez’s 12 steals, good for 4th in MLB.