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This is not a joke: The Miami Marlins are in first place in the NL East

It's not going to last, but considering their recent history, how they spent last season as a punch line, here's credit where it's due: the Miami Marlins are in first place in the NL East.

After a 3-1 win Thursday night — another dramatic victory, fueled by a Giancarlo Stanton homer in the 11th inning — the Marlins own the best record in their division, not the traditional powerhouse Atlanta Braves or the much-hyped Washington Nationals.

Even if this lasts just one day, it's worth your attention. The Marlins weren't in first place for a single day last season, finishing the season 62-100, the second worst record in baseball. The last time they were in first was one day in June of 2012. That's how it goes when you've finished in last place three straight years, these days are few and far between.

Not too many people expected much different from the Marlins this season. But here they are, winners of nine of their last 10 and five in a row. Right now, the Marlins (20-15) have a better record than the Los Angeles Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Texas Rangers and every team in the AL East.

How have the Marlins done it? Did owner Jeffrey Loria sell his soul to the Baseball Gods like it was one of his paintings? Nope. The Marlins are just playing good baseball.

Here are five things the Marlins have done in 2014 to find first place:

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(AP)

1. THEIR OFFENSE HAS BEEN EXPLOSIVE
The Marlins have scored the seventh-most runs in MLB, better than the Dodgers, Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox. Want a comparison? The Marlins were dead last in 2013 in runs scored. We're talking 85 fewer runs than the next team. They scored 513 runs a year ago. So far in 2014, they're at 160.

2. GIANCARLO STANTON HAS BEEN BEASTLY
Stanton was the hero Thursday, and he's been killing the ball all season. Stanton's 11 homers are the most in the NL and his 40 RBIs are tops in MLB. Part of this is Stanton being healthy. He's played in 34 or 35 Marlins games. Last season, he didn't play his 34th game until June 25, the team's 76th contest.

3. THEY'RE WINNING AT HOME
The Marlins have been nearly unstoppable in Miami. They're 17-5 at home right now, easily the best mark in the league. They've struggled on the road (3-10), but their extra-innings win Thursday came on the road. At the very least, that's encouraging. This was the first day of a 11-game road trip. Whether the Marlins can sustain a respectful record may depend on how well they play on the road the next two weeks.

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Henderson Alvarez has already thrown two shutouts for the Marlins this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

4. PITCHERS NOT NAMED JOSE FERNANDEZ ARE DOING WELL TOO
We all know young ace Jose Fernandez is a bona fide stud, but Miami's pitching staff and its success don't end there. Of the team's four main starters, the highest ERA is 2.78. That belongs to Nathan Eovaldi. Fernandez is as-advertised good (4-1 with a 1.74 ERA), but let's also recognize the contributions of Hernderson Alvarez (2-2 with a 2.62 ERA and two shutouts already this season) and Tom Koehler (3-2 with a 1.99 ERA).

5. THEY'RE WINNING CLOSE GAMES TOO
The Marlins have already won eight one-run games this season, only the Giants and Pirates have won more. Miami won 24 one-run games all of last season. Of their last nine wins, four of them have been by one run. There's something to be said about coming out on the right side of close games — either you're a team learning to win, or luck is on your side. Either way, it's not a bad position to be in. 

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Mike Oz is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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