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Since their baseball transformation in 2012, the Miami Marlins have always been an under-the-radar type of entertaining baseball story, good and bad. From taking on the crassness of Ozzie Guillen to be their first year manager, to having their general manager play dress-up in the dugout for nearly a full season, to watching one of baseball’s greatest and oldest hitters join the 3,000 club in their uniform — the Miami Marlins organization has been riddled with good “Hey, remember that time…” tales to rehash.

(Let’s not forget that Marlins Park is probably a destination park just purely because they have that thing in center field, too.)

Since they moved from Miami Gardens to the city five years ago, the Marlins have never finished a season any higher in the standings than third place. They have had one of the all-time great young power hitters, in Giancarlo Stanton, and one of the all-time great young power pitchers, in Jose Fernandez, yet somehow success has always eluded them.

But here we are, taking on the dog days of summer with gusto, and in the periphery of chats about the Cleveland, Texas, Chicago and Washington is a more unusual sight coming into focus: The Marlins in a legitimate playoff chase.

This, I will admit, caught me off guard. The Marlins? Aren’t we just suppose to turn to them when we need a good story of chaos and disorganization (e.g., firing their manager an hour after a brutal loss in May)? Not anymore, it seems.

With that being said, let’s take a look at where the Marlins are ranking this season in a few categories, including offense.

Total

MLB Rank

AVG

.283

2nd

OBP

.332

4th

SLG

.411

16th

TAv

.277

4th

Contact%

79.8

6th

R/Dif

14

12th

Save for slugging percentage, the Marlins are among the top third in all of baseball offensively, batting just a tad shy of the explosive Red Sox offense in average, and among the Cubs, Rockies, and Red Sox in OBP. The power outage that they’re seeing is not solely due to Stanton's down year, but it's not irrelevant; Stanton's slugging percentage is down 115 points from last year and 50 from his career average. But he's slugging .620 since the 4th of July, and a return to form gives the lineup a level of thump more deserving of October.

The biggest difference the Marlins are seeing in the offensive is their ability to score runs from the on base presence and contact rates that they’re seeing. As Matthew Trueblood pointed out in the 2016 Baseball Prospectus Annual, run production was a huge issue for the Marlins in 2015, who finished off the season with a run differential of -65, 10th worst in the majors, all while having a slightly better contact rate than this year at 80.6 percent. ///

So the offense is good, their offense is young, it’s talented talented, and most importantly — it’s legitimate. They've gotten this far, for the most part, without Dee Gordon, who has returned from his 80-game PED suspension and hit .341/.408/.409 in 11 games. Gordon fits into an offensive core that includes the best outfield in baseball, a unit that has produced above-average defense and no True Average lower than .313. It's not just that the three Marlins outfielders combine to be the best group in baseball; it's that, individually, the Marlins have had the best right fielders, the best left fielders and the best center fielders in the National League this year.

Now for the hard part: the pitching. Of course, when you think of the Miami Marlins, you immediately think “Oh! Jose Fernandez, that guy is an ace!” but then, unless you’ve committed yourself to a lifetime of Marlins fandom, your mind might go blank. Al Leiter? He still there?

This is a very mediocre group of arms. Wei-Yin Chen gives off the fragrance of a decent second starter, but his season has gone from bad (4.99 ERA/4.38 DRA) to worse (elbow soreness, DL). Fernandez is now followed by Adam Conley, Tom Koehler, and Juan Nicolino. Collectively, it has survived—the Marlins have a 4.01 ERA, good for 11th best in baseball, and a 3.89 FIP, good for eighth-best in baseball, aided by a spacious ballpark and the weekly dominance of Fernandez. But let’s remove the ace from the equation for a second, so we are able to capture the true talent of starters 2-5 without the noise of Fernandez’s results:

ERA

FIP

K%

Contact%

With Fernandez

4.01

3.89

22.8

77

W/o Fernandez

4.43

4.31

18.2

81

Well.

The Marlins, to their credit, haven't been content with this rotation, especially after Chen went down. They acquired Colin Rea and Andrew Cashner from the Padres, only to see Rea break down (and go back to San Diego) three innings into his first start as a Marlin. So that leaves Cashner to start twice in every postseason series the Marlins are lucky enough to reach. Cashner, in pitchers parks, has a 4.77 ERA in his past 200 innings. There's no obvious secret plan here, unless it's promoting baseball's favorite swingman, David Phelps, back into a rotation. But Phelps has been a well-below-average starter in his career, and the move would deprive the Marlins of their second-best reliever.

Part of being the Marlins—the organization of chaos and disorganization—is that it's hard for the rest of us to judge them on their own terms. They certainly didn't push all their chips into the middle of the table at the deadline, choosing the sort of addition that inspires a "Well, I guess that could work" reaction more than a strong "Oh, man, the Marlins just got really good" reaction. Is that because they are slow-playing this hand, building something permanent? Or is it because they overvalued Cashner, failed in their attempts to do better, or were too cheap to chase the luxury goods?

Where it leaves them is here: The Marlins offense is strong, even with Stanton scuffling. They got back Dee Gordon in the knick of time. Jose Fernandez is all systems go after a return from Tommy John that left many onlookers holding their breath. But Fernandez, young and coming off his surgery, will not be used the way that Madison Bumgarner was in 2014, or the way CC Sabathia was by Milwaukee in 2008. Even if Fernandez isn't limited by an innings cap, now or in October, the Marlins need 40 starts from non-Fernandez starters to get to October; once there, they'll need about 110 innings from non-Fernandez pitchers to win it all. And he very well might be limited by an innings cap; if the Marlins stick to the original plan, he'd only have about six more starts left.

The Marlins have been an under-the-radar type of entertaining this year. Ultimately, that seems to be this roster's ceiling.