Derek Jeter says the Miami Marlins are better than this.
If he’s wrong, the woebegone franchise is headed for its worst season yet.
The Marlins began the week with the worst record in the majors at 9-24 (.274), which put them on pace to finish 44-118. That’s bad, even for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2009 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2003.
Manager Don Mattingly said he tells his players to stay positive, but “it’s hard to say everything is great when you’re 9-and-whatever,” he said. “I don’t even know what we are. I know it’s not very good. It’s not a great feeling.”
It’s a new feeling for Jeter, the perennial postseason presence for two decades as the shortstop for the New York Yankees. In his second season as Marlins CEO, Jeter is rebuilding the franchise from the bottom up.
There are signs of improvement in a farm system bereft of talent when Jeter’s group bought the franchise 19 months ago. Trades swung by Jeter and president of baseball operations Michael Hill helped to restock the minors, and the outlook is especially bright regarding young pitching.
But the big league team has backslid since Jeter took over, in part because he traded away All-Stars Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Dee Gordon and J.T. Realmuto.
The Marlins appear headed for their first 100-loss season since 2013 and could eclipse the 1998 team record of 108 defeats.
“You can’t let it get to you,” reliever Drew Steckenrider said of the team’s ugly record. “Obviously it’s frustrating, but nobody wants to think about that. You just have to take every day as a new day and a new opportunity.”
Miami was beaten again Sunday by Atlanta to complete a series sweep. In the postgame clubhouse, magazines stacked on a table advertised Yelich as a likely repeat National League MVP, as if mocking the Marlins.
Heading into a seven-game trip that begins Monday night in Chicago, they had been outscored this year by 73 runs, an average of more than two per game. Their record was 6-15 at home and 3-9 on the road. They had three regulars batting over .250, and while left-hander Caleb Smith was 3-0, the rest of the rotation was 4-16.
“I’m not happy,” Jeter said. “Michael Hill is not happy. Donnie is not happy. I’m sure the players are not happy.”
The offense is especially abysmal, ranking last in the majors in runs, doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, walks, slugging and OPS. The Marlins haven’t hit a triple, or a homer with more than one man on base.
Jeter, Hill and Mattingly believe the team is underachieving, but that’s debatable. The Marlins finished last in the majors in 2018 in runs, home runs, slugging and OPS, and that was with Realmuto. They don’t have a player who hit over .278 last year, or hit more than 12 homers.
Miami hoped for improvement from center fielder Lewis Brinson, the centerpiece acquisition in the Yelich trade. But he was batting .197 when demoted last week to the minors.
Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker were signed to provide veteran leadership, which they’ve done. But Granderson began the week batting .176, and Walker was at .250 with five RBIs.
It’s all too familiar for Walker, who played on Pittsburgh Pirates teams that lost 99 and 105 games.
“You learn a lot more from the tough times than from the good times,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep your head up.”
The Marlins fired batting coach Mike Pagliarulo, but that didn’t help. They scored 13 runs during last week’s five-game homestand.
Jeter also fired president of business operations Chip Bowers last week. The Marlins said that attendance wasn’t a factor, and that Bowers wasn’t involved in negotiations for TV and ballpark naming rights that have yet to produce deals.
Regardless, longstanding fan apathy congeals around the new ownership. The team is averaging 9,668 fans per game at Marlins Park, less than last season and last in the majors.
Reversing the attendance pattern will likely take years. If Jeter’s right, improvement in the won-loss percentage will come sooner.
“No. 1, you keep working,” Mattingly said. “And then you don’t accept it. We can’t accept that this is the way it’s going to be all year long. There’s a lot of baseball to be played.”
Even the Marlins can’t lose ’em all.