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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing Opening Day and the Miami Marlins with Fish Stripes

To learn more about the 2016 Marlins, we asked Scott Gelman of Fish Stripes a few questions.

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The last time the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins squared off, neither fanbase paid much attention. The Tigers, having already clinched the 2013 AL Central Division title, used the series as a chance to recharge their batteries before the playoffs. The Marlins entered the three-game set having already lost 100 games, with just 59 wins to their name.

Roughly three years later, expectations are different on both sides. The Tigers are trying to return to contention after a last-place finish in 2015, while the Marlins are hoping that a healthy roster will lead to a surprise playoff run. They finished third in the NL East last year, though they still finished three games behind the Tigers in the overall standings with a 71-91 record.

To help us preview the quick two-game set, we asked Scott Gelman of Fish Stripes a few questions about the Marlins and their upcoming season. Scott and his staff have been hard at work previewing the 2016 Marlins, so be sure to check out their work!

1. Many pundits viewed the Marlins as a dark horse contender last season, but they quickly fell out of the running and never seemed like a threat to climb back into the race. With both Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez healthy in 2016, what is this team’s ceiling?

The key is keeping both healthy, which is something that hasn’t been realistic. Jose Fernandez has proven he can easily be one of the best pitchers in the game. Giancarlo Stanton can hit 40 home runs and drive in over 120 if healthy.

Miami is not as young as some might think this season. They can easily have the best outfield in baseball, with Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich all producing.

The starting rotation could emerge as one of the best in the National League, with Tom Koehler and Adam Conley having success regularly.

The bullpen is a big question mark, and it doesn’t help that their setup man, Mike Dunn, is on the DL to open the season. But this is a very talented Marlins team that could, if everything works out, win the NL East without much of an issue.

2. While Stanton gets all of the headlines in the Marlins outfield, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are pretty good too. Which player do you expect will perform better in 2016, and which one has the higher overall ceiling?

I think Marcell Ozuna will have more success because he is now determined. He might have spent too much time in Triple-A last season and reportedly showed up to spring training in better shape.

Ozuna is capable of hitting 20 home runs a year and driving in close to 80. It partially depends on where he is batting, but Ozuna is the top breakout candidate on this team.

Yelich, though, probably has the higher ceiling because of the success he has already had. At this point, Yelich has proven he can be consistent, and I don’t think he has played his best baseball yet.

3. Speedster Dee Gordon was a pleasant surprise, leading the National League with 2015 hits and 58 stolen bases after everyone pegged him as a regression candidate heading into the season. Do you think Gordon will stay productive in 2016 and beyond, or are we still waiting for him to fall back to earth?

Gordon will stay productive because he does not have to carry the team. He came in and had success last season, but the Marlins didn’t ask him to go out and win the majority of the awards.

There is not as much pressure as there likely was in Los Angeles. It depends how you define productive, but I can easily see Gordon batting .280 and stealing 30 bases before the All-Star break. He is that talented of a player.

4. Tigers fans are familiar with Opening Day starter Wei-Yin Chen, who spent the last four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. How important is Chen to the Marlins’ starting rotation?

Chen is notably valuable, because the Marlins have not had a consistent No. 2 starter to complement Jose Fernandez the last few seasons. Fernandez is their ace, but he is in the two spot so they can better monitor his starts.

He has a notable amount of experience, which is always key. The back end of the rotation is just as important, though. Jarred Cosart has to remain healthy and Tom Koehler needs to have success like he did last season.

Conley is still comparably young and might be forced to adjust early in the season.

Regardless, the Marlins cannot win without Chen having success in front of or behind Fernandez.

5. There weren’t many big names outside of Fernandez on the Marlins’ pitching staff last season, but they still managed league average production in most statistical categories. Do you expect them to be any better or worse in 2016?

The Marlins will be better in 2016. They added a top starter and their lineup should continue to produce.

However, Stanton and Fernandez both have to remain healthy. If that doesn’t happen, anything is possible.

Down an arm in the bullpen, the Marlins’ unit could be tested early. Non-roster invitees Craig Breslow and Dustin McGowan are also essential.

6. How many games will the Marlins win in 2016, and where do they finish in the NL East?

85, which will be good for third, behind the Nationals and Mets, in the East.

★★★

Once again, a big thank you to Scott and the rest of the Fish Stripes staff for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out their excellent Marlins coverage and analysis all season long!