The Miami Marlins are the hottest team in the National League.
That's not a sentence we anticipated writing this season under any circumstance. That we're writing it now, after the Marlins had 18 players test positive for COVID-19 and missed a full week of games, makes it all the more improbable.
After Friday’s 4-3 win against the New York Mets, the Marlins are a perfect 5-0 after returning to play Tuesday night in Baltimore. Overall, Miami has a six-game winning streak and an NL-best 7-1 record.
That, again, is despite having nearly two-thirds of its projected roster on the injured list. The current roster mainly consists of journeymen and prospects — some good, others still figuring it out.
Friday’s starting pitcher, Humberto Mejia, would be in the latter category. He had not even pitched above High-A ball before getting a promotion to the major leagues. Yet he helped lead the team to another victory.
Unlikely hero Humberto Mejia
It would be easier to tell you who Humberto Mejia isn’t than who he is or what he might become.
That’s not a knock on Mejia. He’s shown well during 59 minor-league appearances, posting a 2.40 ERA. But the reality is, he doesn’t have much experience. He’s only made four starts above the Low-A level. The last Marlins pitcher to make a jump like that? The late, great Jose Fernandez in 2013.
RHP Humberto Mejía will become the first Marlins pitching prospect to skip Double-A and Triple-A and start a major league game since José Fernández in 2013.— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) August 7, 2020
This type of opportunity is typically reserved for pitchers viewed as future aces. Mejia wasn’t even among Miami’s top 30 prospects. Yet an opportunity came out of necessity.
To Mejia’s credit, he handled the challenge in impressive fashion, striking out Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto in a scoreless first inning. Overall, he pitched 2 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on two hits while striking out six.
Mejia didn’t get the win, but he set the tone. When he left, Miami was leading 4-1. Don Mattingly, who passed Jack McKeon for most wins as Marlins manager on Thursday, used five relievers to secure the win.
How are the Marlins doing this?
We don’t know how to answer that other than to say they're doing everything right. Basically, they are putting all of the old baseball cliches into action. They're pitching well, playing good defense and getting hits when they matter most. Sometimes baseball can be that simple.
It does help that four of those games came against a rebuilding Baltimore Orioles that has lost 223 games the last two seasons. Then again, the Orioles were 5-2 before Miami swept a four-game series this week.
Is the Marlins success sustainable?
No, it’s not. The schedule is going to catch up to them. Even if they get some players back, they are not deep enough to withstand what will be a loaded September schedule.
Though the real answer might depend on your definition of success.
The Marlins will obviously not sustain an .875 winning percentage. But if they manage to play just .400 baseball the rest of the season, they would have an opportunity to make MLB’s 16-team postseason. That would be a monumental success in the face of near disaster.
If they ultimately miss the postseason, but develop prospects and discover players who can help beyond 2020, that would also be a success.
Others might say Miami’s season is a failure regardless of the standings because of the circumstance surrounding their COVID-19 outbreak. At this point, we’ve stopped trying to predict what will happen next in 2020. But we can’t ignore what’s happened so far — the Marlins are playing good baseball.
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