The playoff hopes of the surprising Marlins have taken a huge and potentially fatal blow. On Sunday afternoon, Miami manager Don Mattingly announced that Stanton, who was placed on the disabled list earlier that day with a groin strain, will miss the rest of the season. According to general manager Michael Hill, Stanton suffered a Grade 3 groin strain that will keep him off the field for at least six weeks, and likely longer. The injury robs the Marlins of their best power hitter and leaves a hole in the lineup that will be immensely difficult to fill as the team chases a postseason spot.
For Miami, Stanton’s loss comes as the team falls into a late summer skid: The Marlins are just 4–8 since the start of the month and have dropped five of their last seven. Miami managed to avoid a sweep at the hands of the White Sox with a 5–4 win on Sunday, albeit with the tying run being thrown out at home in the top of the ninth. But since Aug. 1, the Marlins have dropped 4 1/2 games in the National League East, where they trail the Nationals by 8 1/2 games, and fallen into a tie with the Cardinals for the second spot in the wild-card race, where they lead the Pirates by just 1 1/2 games.
With the division now out of reach, Miami’s lone postseason hope is to hold off the Cardinals, Pirates and Mets—all of whom are within two games of second—for the second wild card. And should the Marlins succeed in that, they’ll be rewarded with a win-or-go-home playoff matchup against either the Giants (and likely Madison Bumgarner) or the Dodgers (and possibly Clayton Kershaw, should he be healthy). That is as tall a task as can be imagined, and Miami will now have to do so without Stanton.
For the Marlins, however, playing games late in the season without Stanton is something they’ve become increasingly used to. The 26-year-old slugger missed the final three weeks of the season in 2014 after taking a fastball to the face and suffering a broken bone in his eye, and he didn’t play a single game after June 26 last year due to a broken hamate bone in his left hand. Injuries have become frustratingly commonplace for Stanton throughout his career: He hasn’t appeared in more than 150 games since 2011, and with his season now over after just 103 contests this year, he’s averaging a mere 112 since the start of ’12.
It’s not just injury that will make 2016 a mostly lost season for Stanton. The rightfielder was mired in a vicious slump for the majority of the first half, hitting just .220/.319/.445 with 93 strikeouts in 65 games through July 1. Stanton picked it up in a big way that month, hitting .305/.371/.621 with seven homers in July (and winning the All-Star Game Home Run Derby to boot), but when the calendar turned to August, he once again slowed down: just 10 hits in 41 at-bats since the start of the month. All told, his 122 OPS+ and 2.1 Wins Above Replacement this year are his lowest marks since his rookie season in 2011.
Stanton did collect three hits and a home run in his last game, an 8–7 loss to the White Sox on Saturday, but he suffered his season-ending injury on the final play of the night. With two outs and no one on, Stanton blooped a ball into shallow right that glanced off Adam Eaton’s glove. Racing for second, Stanton seemed to lose his footing as he tried to slide, awkwardly tumbling to the ground in front of the bag, then limped off the field. The Marlins put him on the DL the next day, with the MRI revealing the severity of his groin strain.
With Stanton out, the Marlins will now turn to a venerable veteran to fill his place in the outfield: Ichiro Suzuki. The 42-year-old has put together a terrific season in orange and white, hitting .319/.389/.390 in 240 plate appearances as a fourth outfielder, and he made history last week by collecting his 3,000th major league hit. Should he be able to keep up that pace, he’ll help paper over the loss of Stanton. But Ichiro won’t be able to slot in as the prototypical middle-of-the-order hitter that Stanton is, and the team’s power production—already weak, as Miami had just 96 home runs as a team going into Sunday, the third lowest mark in baseball—will suffer without his prodigious homers.
For Miami, Stanton’s injury is just the latest to strike the team as it attempts to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Along with Stanton, the Marlins also placed sophomore lefty starter Adam Conley on the DL due to tendinitis in his ring finger, weakening a rotation already struggling to stay afloat. Last week, Miami lost closer A.J. Ramos to a fractured ring finger on his right hand, robbing it of its best reliever and leaving the ninth inning in the hands of Fernando Rodney, who has struggled mightily (a 5.31 ERA in 20 1/3 innings) since being acquired from the Padres at the end of June. Those three will join first baseman Justin Bour and lefty starter Wei-Yin Chen on the DL; Bour has been out since the beginning of July with a sprained ankle, and Chen has been sidelined since July 21 with a sprained elbow.
On the plus side for the Marlins, their closest competitors in the wild-card race have been fighting through injuries of their own. The Cardinals have lost shortstop Aledmys Diaz, righty starter Michael Wacha, first baseman Matt Adams and rightfielder Matt Holliday—the last likely for the season—to the DL this month. The Mets are currently down shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, have no idea when injured first baseman Lucas Duda and third baseman David Wright will rejoin the lineup and saw ace Matt Harvey lost for the year in July. The Pirates have been relatively healthy, but Pittsburgh has gotten below-expected results from centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and ace Gerrit Cole, and its rotation has been a mess.
As such, while Stanton’s injury will hurt Miami, no other team seems to be in position to take advantage of that loss. What’s more, the Marlins’ lineup has been a strength even with Stanton not performing; in particular, fellow outfielders Christian Yelich (141 OPS+) and Marcell Ozuna (121) have helped carry the team, and third baseman Martin Prado (122) has experienced a bounce-back year at 32. The impetus is now on Bour, Conley, Ramos and Chen to come back quickly from their injuries.
Should the Marlins not feel comfortable with their current group offensively, however, they could throw themselves into the waiver trade market, although the complicated mechanics of waiver trades make it unlikely Miami would be able to snag an impact bat (unless the team absorbs a terrible contract, and the Marlins’ perpetually low payroll suggests that’s unlikely). There is one free and potentially productive bat available, though: Alex Rodriguez. The Miami native saw his Yankees career come to an end on Friday with his agreed-upon release, but the 41-year-old has not explicitly stated that he is done playing. A-Rod would be far from a perfect fit—he can’t play the field anymore and has hit just .200 with nine home runs this season—but Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has gone through with crazier ideas. But it’s unlikely that Rodriguez takes his talents to South Beach (or Little Havana, to be geographically accurate): Mattingly told reporters on Saturday that the team has not discussed adding A-Rod, though he didn’t rule it out; Hill, meanwhile, said the team will consider Rodriguez but didn't offer anything more.
Whether or not the Marlins add Rodriguez or anyone else, one thing is clear: Stanton’s injury will be the toughest hurdle the team has to clear in its quest to return to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years—a far bigger blow than even those Stanton regularly delivers from his bat.