Can the Miami Marlins Seriously Make the Playoffs?

It seems impossible to imagine, but Miami is knocking on the door of the NL's second wild card spot.

It's the longest of longshots, but the standings are what they are. And the standings say the Miami Marlins are in the National League playoff picture.

After beating the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday 6-3, the Marlins are now just 3.5 games behind the Pittsbrugh Pirates for the second wild card spot in the National League, and are two games back of the Brewers and Braves. At 71-72, the Marlins have won three in a row, and are just a game under .500.

Given the flaws of the teams ahead of them, is it really crazy to think the Marlins could make a late-September run and begin a serious push for the postseason?

According to our projections, the chances of a Miami playoff berth are extremely remote, at just 1.1%, but that's up from 0.3% just a day before! They have a negative run-differential (-11) and haven't put together a winning streak longer than three games since late July. But here's why the Marlins at least should be entertaining the idea of sneaking into that second NL wild card spot.

Giancarlo Stanton

Miami has a bona fide MVP candidate in outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. What he's done this year, the first season since 2011 in which he's been able to stay almost fully healthy, has been nothing short of incredible (NL ranks are in parenthesis).

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It's one of the reasons the Marlins are reportedly trying to lock him up to a long-term deal.

Stanton and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen are the two position players most talked about in the MVP race, and McCutchen tops Stanton in nERD (3.73 to 3.55), weighted runs created (wRC+) and weighted on base average (wOBA), but the differences between them in those categories is extremely small. Stanton leads McCutchen in the remaining categories.

Most playoff teams have that one star player that, at times, can put them on his back and carry them to the finish line. Stanton (as well as McCutchen) both have that ability, and is one reason why Miami should not be counted out in the final weeks of the season.

Other Marlins Outfielders

Stanton isn't the only Miami outfielder having an outstanding season. Left fielder Christian Yelich and center fielder Marcell Ozuna have also had terrific 2014 campaigns.

Christian Yelich1.744.63.7.355125.296.3759
Marcell Ozuna0.833.13.6.399114.270.32021

You know what's not fair? A starting outfield that is 22, 23 and 24 years old (Yelich, Ozuna, and Stanton respectively) that has a combined fWAR of 13.4 this season. That's not fair. Miami has a young trio of outfielders that have the potential to be very good for a very, very long time.

Our own Jim Sannes recently wrote about Yelich in detail, his late-season surge and why you should be bullish on his future. Not mentioned is his fielding prowess, with 10 defensive runs saved according to FanGraphs, fifth-best in the National League. And guess who's right behind him in sixth place? Mr. Ozuna, with 9 defensive runs saved. For his part, Stanton is also an above average defensive player, credited with seven runs saved in 2014.

So, not only are all three outstanding offensive players, they're also pretty terrific defensively.


A Red-Hot Bullpen

Over the second half of the season, the Miami bullpen has been the best in the National League.

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Miami has gotten positive contributions from virtually everyone in the bullpen since the All-Star break. Closer Steve Cishek has been outstanding in the second half, with a 2.86 ERA, 14 saves and 12.68 strikeouts per nine innings. Mike Dunn's 3.18 ERA is higher than it should be, as his 1.94 FIP would indicate. He's struck out 10.06 batters per nine in 17 innings of work. Bryan Morris has a 0.98 ERA in 18.1 innings since the All Star Game and has left 97.1% of the runners he's faced on-base without scoring. Chris Hatcher, Sam Dyson, and A.J. Ramos all have pitched at least 22 innings in the second half and all have ERAs under 2.70.

An Improving Starting Rotation

Of course, there are obstacles to the Marlins actually pulling this off. The starting rotation has dearly missed the injured Jose Fernandez, compiling a 4.07 ERA this season, 13th out of 15 NL teams. In the second half, they've been a little bit better, with a 3.99 ERA, but that's still 12th in the National League. However, it's improved even more over the last month, with a 3.86 ERA that is 10th in the NL, and there are some bright spots.

Jarred Cosart has been their best pitcher since coming over from the Houston Astros in a trade, with a 1.99 ERA in six starts for the Marlins. Nathan Eovaldi has a 4.19 ERA in 29 starts, but a 3.26 FIP, which indicates his ERA should be better than it is. Henderson Alvarez' 2.88 ERA in 26 starts is eighth-best in the National League among qualified starters. And one name you're probably not familiar with is that of Tom Koehler, whose 3.74 ERA is 23rd, better than Ian Kennedy, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza.

All in all, it's still going to be a tough hill to climb, hence their 1.1% odds of making the playoffs. But somehow, Miami has managed to stay in the race despite losing their ace pitcher months ago. And even if they don't make it, they should be a true playoff contender next year.

At the very least, given the recent poor play from Milwaukee and Atlanta, it's not a stretch to think the Marlins could still be playing meaningful baseball for the rest of September.