World Series Game 4 shows why baseball is beautiful 

No other sport has what baseball has.

Football is religion, basketball is popular and hockey is just intense but baseball is beautiful

Only baseball gives you that one moment where everything can go one way or the other. Think of a situation in the card game “war.” You reach a stalemate with two cards of equal value, so three come out on each side and it all depends on the next draw.

That’s baseball at it’s best. Game 4 of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays had what makes any postseason event feel so amazing.

Stakes.

It’s the key to every meaningful moment in sports. Without stakes, the game just becomes background noise in your living room or sports bar.

With the Dodgers leading the Rays 7-6 at the bottom of the ninth, it was time to send their closer on the mound. Three outs and the Dodgers go up 3-1, one step closer to their elusive championship, something they haven’t achieved since 1988. The Rays need to come back and claim this game to tie the series.

Now the cards are being stacked.

That isn’t the only thing that is on the line in the ninth inning. Reputation is on the line as well. Kenley Jensen has been with the Dodgers for a decade and the closer for eight years. With 312 career saves and 936 strikeouts in 636 innings, he is considered one of the best in baseball. Yet even he has shown to be mortal, and because of his elite status, his blown saves get magnified. Last year, he let a career high save opportunities get away from him.

The stage was set with two outs and a runner on first base. The Rays had their best hitter at the plate, a rookie. Randy Arozarena has literally played only two months in the big leagues yet has become a legend by hitting a postseason record ninth home run earlier in the game.

Arozarena was called on to be the hero once more while Jensen was relied on to shut him down.

The objective was clear; hit a home run and win the game or get a hit and keep the inning alive for the next guy to have the opportunity to be the hero. Fail to reach base and the game is over.

These are stakes. This is now the part of the game where after all the cards have been drawn, this next card decides it all. Jensen threw nothing but sliders and cutters just trying to get the rookie to swing and miss; a strike looking, a foul ball, three straight balls, another foul ball. In between each of those pitches is the anticipation everyone feels, desperately trying to wish their preferred outcome into existence.

After all that, after spending one minute, which felt like one hour, waiting for the pitch on 3-2, the result was a walk. So now it falls on someone else. The result of that last at-bat could mean nothing or everything. It all depends on what happens next.

Ask yourself, where else in sports creates this kind of tension in between the action? You can find something close to this in football but that only comes with the momentum of the final drive or the last second field goal that is almost supposed to happen every time. Basketball free throws don’t come nearly close. Hockey has this in shootouts but those are only for the regular season.

Only in baseball where someone with the reputation and stature of Jensen could fall to someone like Brett Phillips, who is on his third team still looking to establish himself.

Prior to this game, Phillips was known only for having a unique laugh. He has played for three teams but has a .202 batting average in 153 career games over four seasons. His hometown Rays traded for him in the middle of this truncated season.

This was his sixth postseason game but only his third plate appearance. There is no way Jensen could not get this guy out. In any other sport, this would be a one-sided affair.

This is where the final cards are flipped.

Phillips hits a single to centerfield, scoring Kevin Kiermaier to tie the game. Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor kicked the ball, and Arozarena was off to the races. Taylor threw the ball to first baseman Max Muncy, who relayed it to catcher Will Smith.

If Smith catches the ball, he would have Arozarena, who stumbled around third dead to rights and the game would be extended into extra innings. Instead, the ball bounced off of Smith’s glove and Arozarena slid into home plate to end the game.

Now Phillips is a hero for his hometown team. The series is tied and there is still a chance the Rays could win their first ever championship.

On the other side, this could be the moment that leads to the Dodgers losing their third World Series in four years.

This doesn’t happen in any other sport. That’s what makes baseball in the fall so beautiful.

Marlins should take their own advice and continue paying attention

The difference between being under .500 and on the outside looking in and above .500 with a playoff spot for the first time in 16 years — as well as being within striking distance for the first time in franchise history — is making the Philadelphia Phillies their whipping boys.

The fact that one of the best catchers in baseball wanted to leave Miami via trade because he wanted to win, only to go to a team with bloated expectations and being dominated by the very team he didn’t believe in, is delicious enough for Marlins fans.

Going 7-3 against a team lead by JT Realmuto, Bryce Harper and Didi Gregorious and taking back second place of the NL East has led to the Marlins feeling themselves a bit. The social media team asked the nation and its media if they were finally paying attention to the franchise formerly known as “bottom feeders.”

As great of a story it is, the Marlins should take their own advice and continue paying attention to the road ahead. What lies in front of them is eight straight home games against the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals, both teams are currently last in their respective divisions. After which, the Marlins finish the regular season on the road against Atlanta and a desperate and volatile New York Yankees team.

Should anything go wrong and the Marlins will return to being the laughing stocks of baseball. It can be easy to forget that this was teetering around .500 and barely clinging on to the bare minimum of playoff qualification before they were scheduled to play with their favorite punching bag again.

When the Marlins won, it was either with dominant starting pitching or resilient hitting. When they lost, it was in horrendous fashion. They gave up double-digit runs in both losses against the Phillies and their last game against the Braves was a 20-run loss. I say that to say, as good as the wins have been for the Marlins, it can all turn on a dime.

That being said, the Marlins have every right to puff out the chest and thumb their nose in the face of the national media. Don Mattingly started his first press conference of spring training this year saying he would like to meet any national media member that didn’t pick the Marlins to finish last in the division. He also said that whatever respect they where to gain had to be earned and it looks like they believe they have earned it.

“Nationally, before the season, nobody was really thinking about the Marlins at all,” Mattingly said. “but I think we felt pretty good about ourselves. I think we’re doing what we believe we could do.”

After two years of rebuilding in the cellar, the Marlins fortified their lineup with a slew of veteran free agent additions. After last season, any new set of names in the lineup would be considered an improvement. They got Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar for basically an empanada. Aguilar, batting .295 with six home runs and 29 RBI, looks like he returned to All-Star form. Once Villar proved to be a glorified version of Jon Berti, he was traded to the Blue Jays for prospect Griffin Conine.

The national media truly took notice when the Marlins traded for Starling Marte. He was already batting .300 at the time of the trade but after over a week of clutch hits (3HR and 11 RBI), it was clear that he was going to be the difference maker for the Marlins.  

“Starling’s been huge for us because he brings that energy,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “He’s such a dynamic player that can do a lot of things in the baseball field. I’m really excited about him and hopefully we can have him here for a very long time.”

“He solidifies centerfield,” Mattingly said. “He’s gotten big hits for us. The hit today with two outs was huge. He’s been great for us and he’s solidified that one spot for us which allowed me to now do a lot of different things in the corners and knowing that spot in the order is kind of set.”

Rojas batting .370 and the veterans providing the pop masks the glaring fact that their young hitters are not ready yet. Isan Diaz, Jazz Chisholm, Jesus Sanchez and Monte Harrison have all gotten big league opportunities but none of them have stood out yet.

Lewis Brinson, in his third year, has seemed to have finally found a niche against left-handed pitching. In 36 at-bats, which is half of his at-bats for the season, he is batting .306 with a .915 OPS against southpaws.

The pitching on the other hand, made the rebuild a success. Sixto Sanchez is out there looking like Pedro Martinez, with a 1.69 ERA in five starts. Sandy Alcantara is as good as he was last year and Pablo Lopez finally reached his potential. These three starters alone makes a Marlins a team to fear in the postseason.

“I kind of hope people are giving us more credit because we do have a good team,” outfielder Matt Joyce said. “You kind of get labeled and branded something because of the past. It’s not the same team, not the same organization. You have a chance to win every night.”

There’s plenty of reason to be confident and optimistic, but no reason to be arrogant just yet.

Matchups for MLB, Marlins: Weekend of August 14

With teams having completed between eight and 30 percent of the season, it’s hard to get a clear picture for MLB’s unprecedented 2020 season. Some contenders are rolling along, but some divisions are being led by surprise teams. With MLB’s trade deadline looming at the end of the month, here’s a look at some intriguing matchups this weekend.

 

Miami Marlins (8-4) v Atlanta Braves (11-9)

The Miami Marlins leading the NL East in August is not something anyone in the baseball world pictured happening. But here we are. The Marlins are coming off a thrilling 14-11 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays despite surrendering seven home runs. That sort of moxie seems to fit this rag-tag group which has been assembled piecemeal in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak. Even with 20 players on the IL, the Marlins are making a run.

 

This weekend, Miami welcomes the Braves to town. The Marlins are finally getting their home opener, and the series is for control of the NL East. The Braves trail Miami by one game in the standings, but they’ll be without both Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

 

Missing their top two offensive weapons will hurt Atlanta this weekend. And while the Marlins might not scare anyone on paper, there seems to be something building around this team.

 

PICK: Marlins take two of three over the weekend, including the opener on Friday. (Pablo Lopez 1-1, 1.80 v Kyle Wright 0-2, 6.75)

 

New York Yankees (12-6) v Boston Red Sox (6-12)

The fact that this one isn’t for the lead in the AL East is a surprise as well. Boston’s bad this year., losing nine of their last 12 games. They’re heading to New York after suffering a four-game sweep to the Tampa Bay Rays. Boston’s been okay at the plate, but their pitching staff has posted the fifth worst ERA in the league thus far (5.24).

 

The Yankees, meanwhile, are coming off a two-game sweep of the Braves and sport one of MLB’s best offenses. They’re top-5 in runs, home runs, and first in SLG (.468) and OPS (.813). Aaron Judge, who sat out Wednesday’s game, leads the Majors in homers (nine) and slugging percentage (.758), and he’s tied for the lead in RBIs (20).

 

PICK: Yankees take this grudge match 3-1, including Friday night. Yankees will start RHP Gerrit Cole (3-0, 3.22) vs. Red Sox Friday.

 

Chicago Cubs (12-3) v Milwaukee Brewers (7-9)

The Brewers were supposed to be better, but certainly no one expected the Cubs to have baseball’s best record in mid-August. The Cubs are coming off a two-game sweep of the Indians after having their series versus the Cardinals postponed.

 

Milwaukee travels to Chicago with a team batting average of .220. Christian Yelich is hitting just .175 and Ryan Braun .143. The pitching staff’s ERA remains middle-of-the-pack, but the team has struggled for consistency, alternating wins and losses all week.

 

The Cubs, however, are rolling. They’ve won eight of their last 10 and they’re leaning on a pitching staff that’s top-10 in ERA and top-5 in OBA (.216) and WHIP (1.14). The offense is top-5 in OPS (.775).

 

PICK: Cubs take three of four in this one, including Friday’s game. Chicago starts Tyler Chatwood (2-1, 5.40) in that one.

Jesus Aguilar has emerged as a team leader with the Marlins and prime power source. (Craig Davis for FiveReasonsSports)

Pressure Point: Marlins answer haters with unlikely run of wins

(Photo above: Marlins newcomer Jesus Aguilar, seen in spring training, has emerged as a team leader and power force with three  home runs.)

 

They have always been the Bizarro Marlins. A franchise that began with a knuckleball has taken more screwball turns than a runaway rollercoaster.

From two unlikely World Series championships without ever finishing first in their division, wholesale selloffs of their best players and a manager praising a dictator despised by the community to an ownership swap, contentious ballpark deal and the rise and heartbreaking fall of Jose Fernandez, the Miami (nee Florida) Marlins have always operated in an orbit off-kilter from the rest of MLB.

But we’ve never seen anything like Team Corona.

Stuck in a Philadelphia hotel under COVID house arrest for more than a week because more than half the team caught the virus. Throwing balled-up socks against mattresses to keep their arms from atrophying.

Somehow those who remained unscathed joined up with a ragtag collection of castoffs and prospects to sweep a four-game series from the Orioles in Baltimore this week to stake an unlikely claim atop the National League East.

Details on the Marlins’ sweep of the Orioles at Fivereasonssports.com

They did it with cardboard cutouts of the teammates who are in COVID-19 quarantine occupying seats near the visitors’ dugout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Well spaced, of course, for social distancing.

Only the Marlins.

They are 6-1 going into Friday’s series opener against the Mets in New York, with a winning percentage of .857 that leads MLB as what was supposed to be a six-day trip will stretch into more than three weeks. It won’t end until they play Tuesday and Wednesday in Buffalo, of all places, against the orphaned Toronto Blue Jays.

The Marlins were mercilessly pilloried by social media and national media for the outbreak, especially after an unsubstantiated report that players had been out nightclubbing in Atlanta. That proved false, though mistakes in judgment were made that led to infections.

Some people were a whole lot more upset with the action of a baseball team than the inaction of many government officials throughout this pandemic. The reaction has been more understanding about the St. Louis Cardinals, one of baseball’s sacred cows, being similarly stymied by the virus.

In truth, this Marlins misadventure is at essence a human experience, just as the pandemic has been for all of us.

“We’re human beings, not just baseball players,” shortstop and team leader Miguel Rojas said in a virtual group chat. “We’re suffering from this virus. … This has to bring awareness. Not just to our team but to everybody throughout the league.”

Haters will hate. So hell with ‘em, right?

If you can’t appreciate what this team has been though — is still going through with 18 players quarantined in South Florida — and what it’s doing now, by all means go back to posting conspiracy theories on Facebook to drive friends and family batty.

If sports have any value amid a world-wide crisis, the Marlins are providing a pleasant diversion.

“Through all this, we’d like our story to be that we persevered through this, learned from it and moved forward,” manager Don Mattingly said.

How can you not admire this patchwork quilt of a ballclub?

They lost eight of 12 relief pitchers to COVID-19 and had to sign a bunch of retreads Mattingly hadn’t even met before he had to start calling them into games. Yet the bullpen was impeccable in the sweep in Baltimore, including preserving three one-run wins.

They had a 30-year-old Olympic speedskating medalist make his major-league debut by starting in the doubleheader win at two different infield positions. Miami native Eddy Alvarez was already an inspiring story when he went to the 2014 Winter Games following surgery on both knees to repair 12 tears in his patella tendons.

Eddy The Jet is a perfect fit with these resilient Marlins.

As The Associated Press reported, they are the first team to win at least six of its first seven games after losing 105 or more the previous year since the St. Louis Perfectos began 7-0 in 1899.

Can they keep it up? The deck is stacked against them with a grueling schedule to make up for lost time, including finishing with 27 games in 23 days. They also have a stretch with four doubleheaders in 10 days.

For what it’s worth, esteemed NBC6 meteorologist and Marlins fan John Morales @JohnMoralesNBC6 likes the Marlins’ chances better than South Florida’s in this hurricane season.

“I think this Marlins thing has legs. The lull in the Atlantic does not,” Morales tweeted.

Whether the team continues to soar in rarefied air or reality yanks them back to earth isn’t even the point.

What is already apparent is that the long downtrodden Marlins are finally on the way up. A depth of talent that has been long missing is evident in responding to losing half the roster with four consecutive wins.

Circumstances afforded the opportunity for several players to make big-league debuts, notably outfielder Monte Harrison and pitcher Jorge Guzman.

Harrison, acquired in the Christian Yelich trade, is finding his way at the plate but has already impressed with his speed and defense. Guzman, a flamethrower who came in the Giancarlo Stanton deal, was impressive in a 1-2-3 debut inning, then gave up back-to-back homers in the next.

Meanwhile, most of the top prospects are still playing Intrasquad games in Jupiter — hitters like JJ Bleday, Jesus Sanchez, Lewin Diaz and Jazz Chisholm as well as a potential future starting rotation.

Right now the Marlins’ rotation is Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez (both splendid in their Baltimore starts) and Who Are Those Guys as top three starters Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith and Jose Urena continue to recover from the virus.

They summoned 23-year-old right-hander Humberto Mejia, who hasn’t pitched above the High-A level, to start Friday in New York (Guzman was sent down). A cast of barely recognizable relievers is sure to follow.

“I’m going to have to write a book after this,” Mattingly said after the Marlins completed their first four-game sweep since 2016 and in the process made Mattingly the franchise leader in wins with 282 in his fifth season.

Mattingly noted that the team recognized the achievement with “a nice little bottle of bubbly for a train ride [to New York] you’re not allowed to eat or drink on. You don’t want to drink because you can spread the particles in the air. It was a nice gesture on behalf of the organization.”

Could only happen with the Marlins in the time of coronavirus.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Marlins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Jaillet’s Journal: In a changing sports world, MLB still doesn’t get it

The MLB needs to get it together.

I am not hopeful for baseball the season. just Saturday, it was reported that a July 4 start for the 2020 MLB season is a near impossibility. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic noted that preparation time would make starting the season by July 4 difficult.

If negotiations were to resume and a deal was to be reached, players would need 10 days to prepare their facilities according to medical protocol. Players would also need time to report for spring training, especially those from foreign countries.

To me, this sounds like baseball is not returning anytime soon. That may be a tough pill to swallow for some people. Especially for concession workers and people who work at the ballpark, I feel terribly sorry for them. However, I do not feel sorry for the owners or the players.

The optics for the MLB don’t look good here. You could definitely pick a side. You could blame the owners for being greedy, and side with the players from wanting to get their money’s worth. I don’t blame you for feeling that way.

You could side with the owners for wanting their money, and the players for being greedy. Again, I don’t blame you for feeling that way either.

Nevertheless, the fact that millionaires and billionaires are quarreling about money, especially right now makes for poor optics. There are so many people struggling to just make ends meet right now. In a sport that has already struggled due to length of games and the cost of attending one, they are not doing themselves any favors.

I said it as soon as reports of tension between the players and owners came out. Major League Baseball is shooting themselves in the foot. They have an opportunity to capture the fans thirst for sports once again, and they are blowing it.

It’s not like Major League Baseball has an opportunity to redeem themselves while other sports are in the offseason. Football is going to be coming back, and basketball will follow soon.

The NBA calendar in particular has it so there will be basketball year-round. June 30 is when training camps will begin. July 31 is when the 2019-20 season will restart. Game seven of the NBA finals, if necessary, will be October 12. In between October 12 and December 1 the NBA draft in the start of free agency will take place.

There are basically going to be sports year-round. I’m a fan of all three of the sports that are coming back. There will be ways that I can occupy my time sports-wise. Baseball can take a backseat.

Between the prices of games, the length of games, and the fact that baseball has stayed the same in an ever-changing sports world, none of these things work in their favor.

Cue the Pat Fitzgerald rant of how kids are buried in their phones nowadays and don’t care about sports. If I sound like that, so be it. Baseball hasn’t changed, and it’s killing the game.

Baseball will be buried in the proverbial sports calendar. That’s not a good thing for the sport or the fans that it has. Then again, I don’t feel bad for the league.

I’m all set with baseball for now. Baseball is my favorite sport as a kid, so it saddens me to say that.

Unlike Major League Baseball, my tastes have changed.

Why We Should Care About Sports

 

Given we are in the midst of a global pandemic, you make ask yourself – why should I care about sports?

A simple trip to the grocery store can induce crippling anxiety.

The news is a constant cycle of hopelessness.

Leadership stateside, is let’s just say questionable.

We’ll debate politics when (if) this is all over during 2020, already one of the worst years in recent memory.

For now it come down to waiting desperately in seclusion.

Hopefully.

 

“Adapt or die” has never held more significance.

That is why a wholesome distraction such as sports is therapeutic.

With the global news consumed by COVID-19 the world turns to outlets such as ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader” for some normalcy.

We should be enjoying a different kind of March Madness right now.

Opening Day in Major League Baseball.

Meaningful NBA and NHL games as the Heat and Panthers fight for postseason position.

The Miami Hurricanes baseball team was real good.

All now an illusion, a mirage when seems as distant as when you could say hello to your neighbor.

And shake their hand.

The NFL Draft is moving ahead as planned, sort of.

 

It will happen in a way we have never seen before.

We can’t wait!

Fill out your mock drafts until your hearts are content.

Even if they are unconventional, or irrational.

Enjoy a newfound camaraderie with fellow sports fans.

Maybe even reach out to your favorite athletes and say hi.

 

The Five Reasons network is committed to bring sports fans even more content during this time.

Subscribe to the 5 on the Floor Miami Heat podcast here.

For the latest Miami Dolphins the 3 Yards Per Carry podcast has you covered, subscribe here.

Five Rings Canes is rolling out new content regularly, you can find them here.

We also have a YouTube channel where we discuss all things in the world of sports and beyond.

Jonathan Villar, right, works with Isan Diaz on the first day of spring training. Villar, an infielder, could end up in center field. (Craig Davis for Five Reasons Sports)

Pressure Point: Are rebuilding Marlins ready to take step to relevance?

JUPITER

Welcome to Camp Optimism, which is a most unfamiliar moniker for Miami Marlins spring training.

It’s not full-blown optimism, mind you, in the sense of, hey, we’re ready to kick ass like a genuine big fish.

That would be absurd for a team coming off a 105-loss season, and that’s not what’s going on here. That mindset is reserved for the team housed on the opposite side of the Roger Dean Stadium complex — the Cardinals, who find a way to be a factor year after year.

For the Marlins, this year is about hope and finally the expectation of beginning to rise out of the malaise of a lost decade. That is fueled by the belief that the franchise is finally moving away from the clown show of the past.

“It’s time for us to move forward,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Monday on the first day of full-squad workouts at spring training. “There will be disappointment if we don’t make measurable gains this year.”

Rebuilding plan faces test

Owner Bruce Sherman actually took a swipe at the way previous ownership operated, saying, “I don’t want to have up and downs, up and downs. That’s a silly way to run a baseball club.”

Of course, the Sherman/Derek Jeter regime began two years ago by trading away all of the team’s All-Stars and big names in embarking on a bottom-up rebuild.

The turnover is evident. There are only five players on the roster who were here in 2017; Miguel Rojas and Brian Anderson are the lone position players who were on the team when Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna comprised the then-best outfield in baseball.

Keep in mind, the Marlins never won more than they lost with that group. There is no guarantee this approach will work either, of restocking the farm system and waiting for the tide of young talent to elevate the product in Miami.

Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations, dodged a question about how much improvement in the win column would be reasonable to expect.

Hill did say, “Now a lot of that upper level talent is on the 40-man roster. Once that happens, it’s only opportunity at that point.”

Hence, Hill’s message to the young prospects: “Go out and let your talent shine. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Let it go. Go have fun … and give yourself every opportunity to show what you’re capable of doing.”

Uphill climb in NL East

Mattingly took that message a step further to the identity of team he’s trying to assemble: “We want a club that starts to exude that confidence, starts to show a little bit of swagger and starts to have a little push back and expectation that we’re better than this if we’re not playing well.”

These Marlins must push these aspirations in the NL East against the defending World Series champion Nationals, the division champion Braves whose young prospects are already blossoming into stars, a well-armed Mets team and a Phillies team spending money like they’re printing it.

Most of the young players the Marlins are counting on for the foundation of the mantra Sherman and Co. have adopted of “sustainable winning” haven’t been tested about the Double A level.

To me, what this season will be about for the Marlins is seeing some the touted talent reaching Miami and providing the first indication whether they are as good as advertised. At the top of the list would be starting pitchers such as Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, Jorge Guzman and Nick Neidert.

If success is on the horizon it will be built on the young arms, which Hill noted are ahead of the top hitting prospects in the organization. The hope is that some of the bats they are pinning hopes on will show progress toward legitimacy, at least in the upper levels of the minors.

Meanwhile, there are a few more accomplished major-league hitters in camp with the offseason additions of Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson, Jesus Aguilar and Matt Kemp (on a minor-league contract).

Villar odd choice for center field

The one curious bit of news from Day 1 was Mattingly saying that Villar would get a serious look initially in center field during spring training.

Villar played 162 games last year for the Baltimore Orioles. Primarily a second baseman, he didn’t appear in the outfield in any of them. He has started in center field in just six of 785 big-league games.

His chances of playing in every game again this season would seem greatly diminished if he is asked to cover the vast expanse of center field at Marlins Park, particularly with the addition of artificial turf this season.

Dickerson, slated for left field, played on similar turf at Tampa Bay.

Regarding the toll it takes, Dickerson said, “Your shins, your back, things you’ve got to get used to. It’s definitely going to hurt teams coming in and not getting over that first couple of days. They’re kind of sore right away. We have to figure out ways to stay on top of it to make sure your body is optimal and ready to go.”

For his part, Villar said, “I’m here for the team. If they want me to play centerfield, I’ll try,” though his face conveyed some doubt.

Meanwhile, Villar spent the first day working at second base along with rookie Isan Diaz.

This will be an issue that bears watching as Camp Optimism progresses.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Derek Jeter with the Miami Marlins: So far, so good

Tuesday, Derek Jeter learns if he makes the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Well, we already know he is. The only question is whether it’s unanimous.

What’s not unanimous?

Views on his tenure with the Miami Marlins.

So, today seems the right day to evaluate that.

When Jeter officially took over the Marlins as part-owner and CEO in September of 2017, the team was in shambles. The team hasn’t seen the playoffs in over a decade, their last winning record was in 2009, it’s been a year since the passing of Jose Fernandez, and have had multiple fire sales. The franchise needed drastic changes to return to competitive form.

The previous core that included Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Marcel Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and J.T. Realmuto, clearly wasn’t getting it done so change needed to happen. Jeter traded all of the players listed for prospect packages that now make up the team as we know it today.

Of course, Jeter and the Marlins were under much scrutiny from the national media and the team’s fans but he made the right decisions to get the team back on track after many years of mediocrity.

December 2017

The first major trade of Jeter’s ownership involving players of the old core included Dee Gordon. Gordon was traded to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Nick Neidert, RHP Robert Dugger, and Chris Torres. Great trade for the Marlins, adding much-needed pitching depth and trading away Dee Gordon’s contract was a big win for Jeter.

In the same month, Miami traded reigning 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees for 2B Starlin Castro, RHP Jorge Guzman, and SS Jose Devers. This was probably the most criticized trade made by Jeter simply because Stanton was so beloved in Miami.

Trading Stanton gave the Marlins so much more financial room now that they don’t have his $325 million dollar contract while also getting back a proven hitter, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, and a prospect who was having a career year before going down with an injury in the middle of the season. A tough decision to trade the MVP but it needed to be done. So far, the Marlins haven’t missed Stanton, he had an underperforming season in 2018 and in 2019, he barely even saw the field because of injuries.

Marcel Ozuna was the next player of the old core to be traded to a new team. Ozuna had a breakout year during the 2017 season but it’s better to trade him now when his value is at its highest. Ozuna was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for LHP Daniel Castano, RF Magneuris Sierra, RHP Sandy Alcantara, and RHP Zac Gallen. This trade has probably been the most successful in terms of players to already reach the MLB level.

January 2018

The most talked-about trade, in probably Marlins’ history, is the Christian Yelich trade. Yelich expressed his unhappiness in Miami now that all of his friends that he rose to the big leagues are now on different teams. He requested a trade and threatened to not participate in any fan interaction activities in Miami. Yelich was granted his request and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. Yelich was traded for, CF Lewis Brinson, 2B Isan Diaz, CF Monte Harrison, and RHP Jordan Yamamoto.

The Yelich trade only seems terrible to the casual fan because Yelich ended up winning MVP the next season, and was runner up the season after. In all fairness, Yelich would’ve never won MVP in Miami because of how big Marlins Park was. The return for Yelich was a good return for the club. The media calls it a failed trade because the headliner of the trade, Lewis Brinson, hasn’t produced to his ability quite yet. Brinson wasn’t the only player in that trade and the other players have been producing in the minor leagues and in the big leagues.

February 2019

The last valuable player of the old core traded by Jeter was J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto also displayed his disapproval with Jeter dismantling the team and building from the ground up. The only way Realmuto would’ve stayed in Miami was if the Marlins gave him a huge contract. Don’t get me wrong, Realmuto is one of the best catchers baseball has seen in a long time, but he wasn’t worth the money he was asking for. When it was clear the Marlins and Realmuto weren’t going to come to terms on a contract, he requested a trade.

Jeter traded Realmuto to the Philadelphia Phillies for C Jorge Alfaro, RHP Sixto Sanchez, LHP Will Stewart, and Future Considerations. This trade was phenomenal for the Marlins. They picked up their ace of the future, a power-hitting catcher with multiple years of control, and a left-handed pitching prospect with some upside to him.

Free Agent Signings

Jeter has also done a great job in the free-agent market. He hasn’t overspent and has signed players who would become great mentors to the young group of players that Miami is developing and who would become trade candidates in July that could net a good return from contenders.

Just recently for the 2020 season, the team signed free agent relief pitcher Yimi Garcia and outfielder Corey Dickerson to multi-year deals. As the team moves closer to contention, the more money Jeter is going to spend on acquiring talent.

Baseball moves aren’t the only moves Jeter has overseen. He’s had a say in ballpark enhancements (which looks beautiful by the way), in bringing the fences in, and in fan experiences such as pricing and activities.

Evaluation

Jeter has done a fantastic job of running the organization the right way. Unlike the previous ownership group, this new regime cares about the fans and their experiences. In the days before Jeter came to town, the Marlins were viewed as the easiest team to trade with because the last executives wouldn’t think the trade through and would just say yes as quickly as they could. The previous executives weren’t very baseball smart or disciplined.

The Marlins of the past were seen as the easiest team to swindle during trades for not being disciplined. They never thought about the future of the franchise, only thought about the present. The trades they made were either for salary dumps or because they believed a washed-up veteran would be enough to make the playoffs.

Jeter has been the most disciplined CEO the franchise has seen and is the smartest baseball mind to run the organization. He knows what it takes to build a winning organization and how to do it the right way.

He’s always around the fans when there are fan activities, always available for pictures, and is always willing to sign autographs when he’s around. He is one of, if not THE most proactive owner/CEO in baseball.

He’s gotten a lot of criticism over the last couple years but he doesn’t mind because he knows what it takes to build a winning organization and in just a matter of two years and a half he brought the organization’s farm system from almost dead last in the league to fourth according to MLB Pipeline.

All in all, I’d give Jeter a solid 10/10 evaluation rating because he’s done everything the right way and has shown the utmost respect for the fans and their experiences. He has shown that he is capable of running a team even when there was doubt when he first became CEO.

The future of the Miami Marlins is bright and we have Hall of Famer Derek Jeter to thank.

The Miami Marlins are moving in the fence 12 feet in center and right-center field.

Pressure Point: Marlins’ fences a good move; faux turf, we’ll see

Welcome to Pressure Point by Craig Davis, commentary and analysis from a longtime observer and reporter of the South Florida sports scene and its teams.

The Marlins followed this week’s acquisition of two power hitters by announcing alterations to Marlins Park (via the Marlins media blog) that will be conducive to what they do best.

Certainly, newcomers Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar will be pleased to learn the Marlins are moving in the fences 12 feet in center field and right-center. So will returning hitters who have been stymied by vast outfield dimensions that make the Grand Canyon seem cozy.

It remains to be seen how much those same players embrace the other major change to the ballpark that was revealed Wednesday – that the team is installing a synthetic grass surface for next season.

This new Shaw Sports Turf is the same artificial turf as the Arizona Diamondbacks put in Chase Field before last season.

The Marlins are making the switch for the same reason. Like the D’Backs, they have struggled mightily to maintain a natural grass field in the retractable-roof ballpark in Little Havana.

Mixed reviews in ‘Zona

Arizona management is thrilled with the new faux field in Phoenix. Aesthetically, it’s a huge hit.

While D’Backs president/CEO Derrick Hall claims it to be safer and cuts back on injuries, the reviews from players – particularly outfielders – have been mixed. Some have blamed it for back and hamstring problems and report an overall physical toll on their bodies from playing on it regularly.

That raises concern for the Marlins, as the Arizona experience is the only gauge on this particular turf as the first test case. The Texas Rangers’ new ballpark opening in March will also have it.

“Turf is turf; it’s never going to be like real grass and everybody knows that,” Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta said in an Arizona Republic story about the turf. “We just have to be smart. It can get you pretty good with your hamstring or back and everything.”

Fellow outfielders Adam Jones and Ketel Marte expressed similar views about the effects of playing on it regularly.

No question that the Shaw Sports Turf surface, known as B1K: Batting A Thousand, is much more sophisticated than artificial fields that have been used in the past. Much effort has been put into making it as close to the real thing as possible with current technology.

Arizona players have said they haven’t had a problem with bad bounces, but that the turf does play slower. The latter was supported by data showing a notable decrease in batting average on ground balls hit with an exit velocity of 90 mph or harder, according to Baseball Savant.

“Obviously, I think everybody would rather play on regular grass,” Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed told the Arizona Republic, while acknowledging the problems the team has had in maintaining live grass.

Some relief for hitters

The Marlins’ experience has mirrored that of Arizona. They’ve used grow lights at night. They have tried at least three different types of turfgrass – two strains of bermudagrass as well as a specialized Paspalum sod. They even tried using one type of grass in the infield and another in the outfield.

Unfortunately, none of it worked satisfactorily.

In the announcement of the switch, Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations said, “While playing the Diamondbacks in Arizona, we were able to get a close look and examine the new surface at Chase Field. We agreed as an organization that this change was for the best after our players and staff had encouraging remarks regarding the playability of the playing surface.”

It will unquestionably be more pleasing to the eye. The field at Marlins Park always lost its luster as the season progressed, especially in the outer reaches of the outfield.

There will be less real estate out there with the fence moving in, and that is a welcome development.

Previous ownership miscalculated in their quest to tailor the ballpark toward pitching when it was built. Instead they created dimensions greatly out of proportion with most of Major League Baseball.

That has been a sore spot with hitters since the park opened, including Giancarlo Stanton, who hated the distant fences and even more so being asked about them.

The size of the outfield got into Christian Yelich’s head. No coincidence that he suddenly became a home run hitter playing in Milwaukee’s more comfy Miller Park.

Fairer dimensions welcome

“As we enhance the playing surface at Marlins Park, we felt it was also appropriate to take the opportunity to evaluate our outfield dimensions,” Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said in the statement. “We made the decision to adjust the distance of the outfield fence, which will now be more in line with the field dimensions you see across many of today’s ballparks.”

This will be the second time the fences have been moved (2016). The change will begin at the end of the digital scoreboard in front of AutoNation Alley in center field and extend to right-center at the start of the visitors’ bullpen.

The distance in straightaway center field will now be 400 feet with the gap in right-center at 387 feet.

It will still be a spacious outfield. And if the artificial turf does play slower it will still skew toward a pitcher’s park.

For a team intent on improving offensive output, bringing in the fences is a good move.

As for giving up on real grass, there is reason to be skeptical about that.

Pressure Point: Marlins finally giving fans reason for hope

Welcome to Pressure Point by Craig Davis, commentary and analysis from a longtime observer and reporter of the South Florida sports scene and its teams.

Jack McKeon had a saying he repeated often during his second tour as manager of the Marlins in 2011: “The worm will turn.”

Ol’ Trade Jack was betting that the team’s fortunes would eventually change for the better.

They never did in that 72-90 season. Nor have they in the eight seasons that followed with the move to Marlins Park the following year.

The Miami Marlins haven’t had a winning record during their time in Little Havana. The recently completed 105-loss season was the second-worst in team history.

But the long-downtrodden franchise may finally be ready to fulfill McKeon’s prophesy. Entering the third year of the Derek Jeter/Bruce Sherman regime, there are signs the worm is beginning to turn.

Moves add pop to lineup

The moves Monday that netted proven power hitters Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar – both were All-Stars within the past two years – without sacrificing any of the valuable young talent in their system were the latest indications that times are changing.

Notably, they were willing to pay Villar a salary expected to be in the neighborhood of $10.4 million next year when his previous team, the Orioles, were not.

Villar isn’t a past-prime package. He’s 28, a switch-hitter coming off a season in which he batted .274 with 24 home runs and 73 RBI while playing all 162 games for Baltimore. He’s a legitimate leadoff candidate who had 40 stolen bases and scored 111 runs.

His WAR rating of 4.0 last season was the same as Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo, and better than Michael Conforto, Gleyber Torres and Jose Altuve, according to Fangraphs.

Villar can also play throughout the infield and in the outfield.

Miami gave up minor-league lefty Easton Lucas to get him. Lucas wasn’t among their top 30 prospects.

Aguilar, 29, comes as a bargain, the slugging first baseman claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay. He is projected to get about $2.5 million via arbitration and is one season removed from hitting 35 homers for the Brewers.

Granted that was playing in Miller Park – see Christian Yelich’s power numbers in Milwaukee compared to Marlins Park. But Aguiliar offers the sort of pop Miami’s punchless offense lacked the past two seasons.

Roster trending upward

It is always a bit surreal when the Marlins open their checkbook. Before Monday they had the projected lowest payroll in the minors.

But Jeter and Co. already made the surprising move of eating $22 million to dump useless lefty Wei-Yin Chen to open a roster spot for a young player who can be a future asset.

Acquiring Villar and Aguilar were smart yet thrifty baseball moves for genuine major-leaguers who can upgrade the most anemic lineup in the game. Villar essentially inherits the salary the Marlins were paying Starlin Castro, and there are more dimensions to his game.

This is not to suggest the Marlins are ready to challenge the World Series champion Nationals and NL East-winning Braves in the division.

Nonetheless, these upgrades fit into a trend of encouraging signs that Jeter’s rebuilding plan is headed in the right direction.

Notably, 24 of the players on the current 40-man roster have been obtained since the ownership change just over two years ago.

Presumably, an effort will be made to address needs in the bullpen and for another bat in the outfield at the Winter Meetings next week in San Diego.

For the first time in too long there is reason to watch instead of averting your eyes.

Patience showing promise

Suddenly, Marlins followers finding reason to feel frisky on Twitter for a change. Good to see their faces unobscured by paper bags.

Everyone else responds with mild shock spiced by well-worn digs. What, the blind squirrel got an acorn and didn’t choke on it?

The Marlins, with their long track record of being chintzy and out of step with the rest of baseball, will be regarded as suspects until they prove otherwise. As well they should.

They don’t have to be forever Sisyphus in knickers, though.

Jeter’s rebuilding plan is starting to take on an encouraging form. Ultimately, the fate of this rebuilding effort will depend on the young prospects panning out.

The best indication is that the farm system, which was as empty as the bleachers on a weeknight when Jeter started, is now ranked fourth by mlb.com.

There are intriguing arms at all levels of the system, and now some promising hitters are rising toward the top of the pipeline.

That is not to say they are all budding All-Stars. And the process of blossoming young talent is always painstaking and often painful, as evidenced by the struggles of Lewis Brinson and Isan Diaz to find their way in the majors.

Nonetheless, on the brink of a new decade, there is reason to believe the Marlins outlook is beginning a turn for the better and to actually look forward to spring training.