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.
“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.
Don’t look now but Spring Training 2018 at the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is shaping up as a potential homecoming for two World Series teams.
With the midsummer All-Star Game break upon us, the two teams with the biggest leads in their respective major league divisions are Houston and Washington, co-tenants at the West Palm Beach training facility. The Astros, as a matter of fact, own the best record in baseball, and with no signs of slowing down.
It’s too early to predict that West Palm’s teams will meet in the World Series, of course, but it would be a first for Palm Beach County, and a major coup for the county planners who landed the Astros and Nationals as home teams for the stadium’s opening last year.
Palm Beach County has had plenty of major league teams training here going all the way back to the 1920’s but never representatives from both the National and American leagues at once.
On four occasions teams that trained in Palm Beach County have won the World Series, and here they are.
1995 Atlanta Braves – West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium
2003 Florida Marlins – Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter
2006 St. Louis Cardinals – Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter
2011 St. Louis Cardinals – Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter
Right now Las Vegas has the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers as the best bets to win the World Series but you never can tell.
The Marlins won it all in their first year training at Jupiter, and that was coming off a 79-83 season in 2002.
Spring training opens this week so it’s time for autograph hounds to formulate a strategy for the four teams training in Palm Beach County.
Biggest names? You already know to have a Sharpie ready whenever Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright and Carlos Beltran are around.
When it comes to the best all-around player, though, you might want to head to the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches to get the signature of Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve.
That’s what major league players seem to think, anyway, based on their voting for the 2016 Players Choice Awards. Altuve won Player of the Year and for the second consecutive year won the Majestic Always Game Award for consistent intensity and hustle.
Last year he won the American League batting title (.338), led the majors in hits (216) and set career highs for home runs (24) and runs batted in (96). That’s a mountain of stats for any player but even more impressive for a guy like Altuve, who stands 5-feet-6.
Of course, Altuve has to keep going if he wants to be the best second baseman in West Palm Beach this spring. Washington’s Daniel Murphy is the best at his position in the National League and he’s coming off a great 2016 season with 25 homers, 104 RBI and a .347 batting average that came up one point short of tying Colorado’s DJ LeMahieu for the batting title in his league.
Here are some other categories that might help you prioritize those autographs for players training in our county alone, depending on areas of particular interest. All numbers are based on 2016 regular-statistics, with a few bonuses thrown in for career achievements.
Batting average: Murphy and Altuve we’ve already covered, but the following players at Palm Beach County training camps also broke .300 last year. Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals and Wilson Ramos of the Washington Nationals (both at .307). Martin Prado (.305) and J.T. Realmuto (.303) of the Miami Marlins.
Home runs: Evan Gattis of the Astros hit 32 last year. Jedd Gyorko of the Cardinals hit 30. Houston’s George Springer and Beltran, a new Astros teammate, each hit 29. And don’t ever forget Stanton, who hit 27 for the Marlins in an injury-shortened season and his the franchise’s career home run leader.
RBI: There are four on this list with 96 or more last season. Murphy leads the way with 104. Next is Christian Yelich of Miami with 98. Houston teammates Altuve and Carlos Correa had 96 each. Better save some space, too, for Beltran, who is fourth among active players with 1,536 career RBI and 50th all-time.
Stolen bases: Trea Turner of the Nationals led this group last year with 33, and even better he’s from Park Vista High School west of Lake Worth. Altuve had 30 and so did the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, who was the NL stolen-base champion in 2015 but missed 80 games last year due to a suspension.
Wins: Scherzer of the Nationals won 20 game last year. Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals and Tanner Roark of Washington won 16 each. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals won 15 and Dan Straily, a Miami newcomer, won 14 games last year for Cincinnati.
ERA: Under 3.00 last year were Roark (2.83) and Scherzer (2.96). Martinez came close at 3.04. Special mention to Wainwright, who is fifth among active pitchers with a career ERA of 3.17 and has been making batters work forever.
Strikeouts: Scherzer led the major with 284. Strasburg had 183, but in 10 fewer starts, and forget the Astros’ Collin McHugh, who struck out 177 last year.
Bottom line, don’t waste time worrying about the hardship that projected cost overruns might have at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new forever spring-training home of the Astros and Washington Nationals in West Palm Beach.
Could be that the final price tag for the stadium and all the other facilities at the Military Trail site climbs past $150 million. That will be something for Crane and Nationals owner Ted Lerner to figure out. Lerner is the billionaire who owns the sprawling Chelsea Piers entertainment complex in New York City, among other things.
Pitchers and catchers report next week to West Palm Beach’s new spring training facility for the Astros and Nationals. The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals are also due back at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium, which opened in 1998 at a cost of $28 million.
Palm Beach County is really stepping up its game with the opening next month of a new spring-training stadium for the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.
We’re not just talking volume here, either, but quality.
Pair those two teams with the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium and you’ve got a combined record of 44 games above .500 in last year’s MLB standings. Let’s see some other county top that.
Sure, Maricopa County in the Phoenix metro area really pours it on, swallowing up 15 teams at 10 spring-training facilities within its boundaries.
Add it all up, though, from the high of the World Champion Chicago Cubs to the low of the 94-loss Padres and Reds and the total of wins and losses from 2016 is not so grand for that large Arizona grouping. Six games below .500, to be exact.
Probably doesn’t make much sense to turn this into some kind of bragging war, but it’s fair to say that Palm Beach County is playing a major role in Florida’s overall stability as a spring-training destination.
The Atlanta Braves nearly pulled a muscle trying to get back here before recently settling on a planned facility in Sarasota County on the state’s Gulf Coast. The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches makes the Mets feel more comfortable about staying in Port St. Lucie, too.
So what would be the best recommendation if you’re a baseball fan from up north in search of the perfect spring vacation spot and you don’t have an obsession with a particular team and just want to collect lots of autographs and plenty of rays?
Got to be honest. It’s Arizona for the simple reason that there are so many teams in a concentrated area, which means you’re bound to get a glimpse of some recognizable player at most any restaurant or nightspot in town.
Second prize goes to Palm Beach County, though, and first prize if we’re talking of Florida alone.
Sure, it’s off to Fort Myers if the Red Sox are what matters most, and Tampa if it’s a Yankees thing. Stay here, however, and there’s baseball every day with a minimum of hassles.
Plus there’s that fresh-paint smell at the new park in West Palm Beach. Makes you certain that spring training is a still a growing concern in our neighborhood, and that teams will stop threatening to tumbleweed their way to Arizona, the way the Dodgers did in 2009.
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.
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.
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.