When the Miami Marlins learned in April that second baseman Dee Gordon would be suspended for 80 games, many people wrote them off. But Miami knew that its season wasn’t lost.
Fast forward to July, and the fish are just two-and-a-half games out of the second wild card. The biggest reason why their season has stayed afloat is their young outfield. The trio of Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Giancarlo Stanton has the Marlins looking like playoff contenders, even without Gordon. Miami currently sits at 44–41, having gotten the bulk of its offense from their outfield, especially Ozuna.
The 25-year old centerfielder is batting .310 with 17 homers and 47 RBIs. Ozuna also has a slugging percentage of .574, and has been worth 3.2 wins above replacement, already two wins more than last year. He has made significant improvements since 2015, when he went back-and-forth between the majors and Triple-A. Ozuna batted just .259 with 10 home runs, and he had the same amount of RBI’s last year as he had through three months of this season (44).
“I think the biggest thing he did was just kind of get back to keeping it simple," said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. "The biggest change he’s made is swinging at strikes. He’s not chasing near as much, and he’s making them throw the ball all over the plate.”
When asked about Ozuna’s strengths and weaknesses, Mattingly thinks Ozuna has a good attitude and that he has great tools — namely his smooth swing and strong arm. All that is missing is experience. "Some things he’ll continue to improve on are understanding pitchers, what they're trying to do," Mattingly said.
With Ozuna performing like an All-Star, he helped the team overcome the struggles of right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. During the month of June, Stanton’s batting average was in the .190s, but now he has started to get hot. He hit four home runs in four straight plate appearances against the Mets this week, raising his season total to 19 and his batting average to .231.
Stanton sports a fielding percentage of .985, the second-highest mark of his career. While many think of him just as a home run hitter, his defense remains underrated.
“He has really good jumps, he works at it, and he throws well," Mattingly said.
The unsung hero of the outfield, leftfielder Christian Yelich, has been exceeding expectations. The 24-year-old is batting .313, with 39 runs scored and 42 RBIs. Yelich has a BB% (walk percentage) of 11.1, which has helped raise his OBP to .395, a 29-point improvement from last year. When Mattingly watches Yelich play, he remembers a young Shawn Green: "He has the same type body — long and tall. And at that point, kind of skinny and lean, [Green] didn’t hit for a lot of power."
While the Marlins have been largely carried by their young trio, they’ve gotten an extra boost from fourth outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. The ageless wonder made unofficial history in early June, when he passed Pete Rose for the most hits for a professional baseball player. (Rose finished his career with 4,256 hits.) Between the majors and his time in Japan, Ichiro now has more combined hits than the “Hit King.” Ichiro is also just 10 knocks away from joining the 3,000 hit club. The 42-year-old is batting .345 with 24 runs scored and 49 hits. Not only is he a great hitter, but according to Yelich he is also a great teammate.
“Ichi is awesome — I grew up watching him play," Yelich said. "I think his first year was 2001, so I was 10 years old. To be his teammate and watch him reach all these milestones is pretty special, and hopefully he can reach 3,000 hits.”
With all three age 26 or younger, they could be manning the outfield for the Marlins for a long time. Stanton signed a contract that keeps him in Miami for at least four more years after this one (and potentially until 2028). Yelich signed through 2022 and Ozuna has yet to reach arbitration.
Mattingly thinks — and Marlins fans should hope — they'll be mainstays.
Photos: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images (outfielders); Dylan Goldman (with Mattingly)