The fascinating tale of Giancarlo Stanton, a slugger who bats second

 

He’s been doing it most of the season and still I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the idea of Giancarlo Stanton batting second in the Miami Marlins lineup.

Through Monday’s game he had 57 home runs, the most in the majors, and seems bound for 60 in what remains of the season. Do you know how many 60-homer men have ever batted No. 2 in the lineup during their historic season?

None.

Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton stands with boys before a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Most often the legendary sluggers have batted in the third spot. If not there, it’s usually cleanup. But second?

Marlins manager Don Mattingly moved Stanton there from the cleanup spot on May 23 in a desperate attempt to shake the offense loose for a team that was off to a 15-28 start. Stanton himself needed some fixing at that point. He was chasing too many bad pitches and striking out way too much in an attempt to turn games around on one mighty swing.

Concentrating more on contact behind leadoff hitter Dee Gordon, Stanton began to drive balls in every direction and many of those times right over the wall. He had 11 homers prior to the switch in what admittedly was just a slice of the season. The other 46 have come from the No. 2 spot, and there’s no reason to change it now.

Here, with data scrapped together from the voluminous Baseball-Reference.com website, are the batting positions of the players who hit 60 homers in one season, plus Stanton.

 

Barry Bonds, 73 homers in 2001 – 136 games in the No. 3 spot, 11 games at No. 4

Mark McGwire, 70 homers in 1998 – 152 games in the No. 3 spot

Sammy Sosa, 66 homers in 1998 – 121 games at No. 3, 38 at No. 4

Mark McGwire, 65 homers in 1999 – 150 games in the No. 3 spot

Sammy Sosa, 64 homers in 2001 – 141 games in the No. 3 spot, 19 at No. 4

Sammy Sosa, 63 homers in 1999 – 84 games in the No. 3 spot, 78 at No. 4

Roger Maris, 61 homers in 1961 – 139 at No. 3, 10 at No. 7, 7 at No. 5, 3 at No. 4, 1 at No. 6

Babe Ruth, 60 homers in 1927 – 157 games in the No. 3 spot

Giancarlo Stanton, 57 homers in 2017 – 105 games in the No. 2 spot, 35 at No. 4, 7 at No. 5, 1 at No. 3

 

Mattingly has been all over the place with his lineup this season but the most commonly used order has been Gordon leading off, Stanton hitting second, Christian Yelich hitting third and Marcell Ozuna batting cleanup.

It hasn’t stopped Stanton from piling up 126 RBI, and Ozuna is right behind at 118.

Hey, Mattingly tried something different and Stanton was willing to give it a shot, with admirable results. Takes some guts to roll something like this out there in the first place because every old-schooler is going to say that it’s crazy.

Whether Derek Jeter agrees once he is approved as the Marlins co-owner or even wants to keep Mattingly as manager, the concept of experimenting with lineups is not new to him. Jeter batted ninth in his major-league debut and showed up just about everywhere else during his career, including leadoff and cleanup.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge has batted second in 24 games this season. The majority of his starts have come in the No. 3 spot, with 61 games there, but apparently nothing about this game is written in stone anymore.

[Gators return to soothing opener with Charleston Southern in 2018]

[A look back at Heat’s inaugural exhibition game at FAU in 1988]

[Get to know LB’s coach charged with patching Dolphins’ sorest spot]

 

 

Do the Marlins have a second-half surge in them?

After what the Miami Heat did last season, pairing an 11-30 start with a 30-11 finish, it’s fair to ask if the Miami Marlins might be capable of finding an utterly unexpected second wind, too.

Of course, so much depends on what happens with the team’s potential sale and the payroll dump that might precede it. Here, though, is what manager Don Mattingly had to say when asked during an All-Star Game media session what to expect from his team.

IAMI, FL – JULY 11: Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Chicago Cubs and the National League and Coach Don Mattingly #8 of the Miami Marlins and the National League look on in the first inning during the 88th MLB All-Star Game against the American League All-Stars at Marlins Park on July 11, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“Well, we’ll see,” said Mattingly, whose Marlins got to the All-Star break at 41-46. “You want your team to keep playing and then you ask them to take a mental break for four days and be ready to go when you get back, because the second half is what really makes you.

“Last year we were probably six or seven games over .500 at the break and we played OK the first few series and then we kind of faded and weren’t able to sustain. Hopefully, those lessons kind of carry us into the second half this year, knowing there’s so much baseball to be played.

“We talked about trying to pick up a game a week and just kind of keep winning series. You’re not going to make it all up in a week but you can do it over time. Hopefully in there somewhere we catch a streak where we win 8-of-10 or 9-of-11 where you really throw some games together. It does feel good going to the break knowing that your team played well right to the end.”

Last year Miami was 47-41 at the All-Star break and just six games out of first place in the NL East. Nothing much happened after that, with a 32-41 finish making the Marlins totally irrelevant at 15.5 games back.

Right now they are 10.5 back of the Nationals and in real danger of dropping off the face of the map again. Pair that with a decent 6-4 record in the last 10 games and it’s a real mixed bag. Lots of season left. Lots of ground to make up.

I’m not feeling it, but then I wasn’t with the Heat either.

 

A pat on the back for the Marlins, and not just because they’re going through a horrible time

Well, the Miami Marlins were eliminated from wild-card playoff contention on Tuesday night, but just as certainly I have been mathematically shut out, too, when it comes to predicting their final season record.

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 27: Manager Don Mattingly #8 of the Miami Marlins walks off the field during the game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on September 27, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
MIAMI – Manager Don Mattingly of the Miami Marlins walks off the field during the game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on Tuesday. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Back in the spring I wrote that the Marlins would finish 76-86, a five-win improvement over 2015. That actually felt a little generous at the time, but here they are, still with a chance to finish .500 or above for the first time since 2009.

It will take a strong finish in this weekend’s final series at Washington, and don’t forget that the Nationals are still battling to wrap up home-field advantage against Los Angeles in the playoffs.

Still, with the tragedy of Jose Fernandez hanging heavy over the franchise, it is impressive that the Marlins have accomplished what they have.

Don Mattingly is still the manager, which means a couple of things. Jeffrey Loria has been keeping his distance and Mattingly has kept his positive attitude about working with a team that isn’t ready to win big yet.

Barry Bonds is still the co-hitting coach, which shows he is serious about getting back into baseball’s good graces.

Overall, the team has fought hard all season. The Marlins were still in the hunt as July turned to August. At that point they were 57-48 and just four games back of Washington in the division. Not bad for an outfit that lost 2015 NL batting champion Dee Gordon for 80 games on a PED suspension.

[Jupiter’s Cody Parkey has sympathy of Dolphins’ special-teams coach]

[Marching with Arnie’s Army during his final Masters round in 2004]

[Lamar Jackson could do what no Palm Beach County athlete ever has]

Bottom line, Palm Beach County is looking good for an old-fashioned baseball revival next spring.

In addition to the Marlins, Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium is the spring home of the St. Louis Cardinals, who still are scrambling for a wild-card spot this week and always can be counted upon to be highly competitive.

Meanwhile, West Palm Beach’s new spring-training ballpark will house the Nationals, who could be coming off a deep playoff run, and the Houston Astros, who are handling themselves consistently well in the tough American League with a chance to match last season’s 86-win total.

All of this is proof that baseball can be fun, and the Marlins could actually be in on it again once February rolls around.

Until then, the grief over Jose’s death will make all this talk of momentum moot.

 

Dee Gordon brings the most momentum into Marlins’ spring training camp

 

If Dee Gordon of Miami wins the batting title against this year, it will be the first time a National Leaguer has gone back-to-back in that category since Larry Walker in 1998 and 1999.

Of course, Miguel Cabrera strung three American League batting championships in a row from 2011-13 and did it again last year but let’s focus here. The idea is to emphasize something really positive as an opening thought about the Miami Marlins, not about one of their stars who got away.

Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon (9) lays down a bunt before stumbling to first base and getting thrown out in the eighth inning during the Miami Marlins home opener in Miami, Florida on April 6, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon lays down a bunt during the Miami Marlins home opener in Miami on April 6, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Can’t do much better than Gordon if that’s the case.

As new manager Don Mattingly prepares Miami’s pitchers and catchers for their opening workout at Roger Dean Stadium Friday afternoon, and as new hitting coach Barry Bonds tries to get used to the image of himself in a Marlins uniform, Gordon is the guy with the most momentum around here.

In addition to his .333 batting average from last year, Dee has long been one of the biggest pests you’ll ever find once he gets on base. He has led the NL in stolen bases for two seasons in a row, with 58 in 2014 and 64 the previous season in Los Angeles.

The last guy to lead the NL in batting and stolen bases in the same season? Jackie Robinson in 1949.

That’s one of the quirks about the Miami franchise. From the very beginning, the Marlins have featured uncommon speed somewhere in the lineup, guys who can start a rally all by themselves with a walk and a steal.

Since the expansion season of 1993, a Marlins player has led the NL in stolen bases six times. That’s more than any other NL team over the same period.

The list includes Chuck Carr in 1993, Quilvio Veras in 1995, Luis Castillo in 2000 and 2002, Juan Pierre in 2003 and Gordon last season.

[Zo’s illness taught Pat Riley all he needs to know about waiting for answers on Chris Bosh]

[Dolphins thought they had their very own Von Miller when they drafted Dion Jordan]

[Honda Classic gets Fowler and Matsuyama fresh off emotional playoff duel]

The New York Mets come in second over that same period with four NL stolen base leaders. Jose Reyes did it for them three times in a row from 2005-07 and you’ll notice that he wound up being a target of the Marlins organization, too. Miami had him during the experimental season of 2012, and Reyes finished third in the league in steals that year.

What does all this mean? Not a great deal, probably, once Giancarlo Stanton steps into the batting cage and starts launching balls into space with Barry looking on. That’s what everybody wants to see.

Mattingly will see more in the Marlins’ lineup, however, beginning with Gordon at the top. He’ll have to see more, too, and do more with what he’s got than any Miami manager has since Fredi Gonzalez. Fredi is the last one to post a winning record, way back in 2009, and he did it with a guy even more versatile than Dee Gordon.

Hanley Ramirez led the NL in batting (.342) that year, tied for sixth in RBI (106) and tied for sixth in stolen bases (27), all of which placed him second in the league MVP voting behind Albert Pujols, but there I go again talking about the Marlins who got away.

Spring training is here, and Dee Gordon soon will be, too. For now, that really should be enough.