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MLB: Thinking Out Loud – the Marlins, Masahiro Tanaka, and Matt Kemp

Are the Marlins for real?

No. Sorry, it’d be a really cool story, but everyone needs to calm down. Hearing the likes of Dan Plesac and Harold Reynolds talk about the Miami Marlins being NL East and Playoff contenders was borderline cringe-worthy. What is it about the opening week of the season that makes people go half insane? I get the excitement over baseball finally being back, but to say that a team which Baseball Prospectus (and basically everyone else) projected to both finish last in their division and end up with one of the worst records in the sport to be a legitimate playoff contender is crazy.

My pessimism (or realism, let’s be honest) about the Marlins doesn’t get in the way of my love for their two young stars, though. Both Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton are off to very good starts in 2014, and are on their ways to superstardom. Unfortunately for Miami, a couple of star players surrounded by an otherwise bad roster doesn’t exactly translate into a successful season (as it might in a sport like basketball for example). After all, the Los Angeles Angels missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons even though they were fielding the best player in baseball with better support around him than there will be for Fernandez and Stanton this season.

For the sake of Marlins’ fans and the sport in general, I really hope this team actually decides to sign their young stars to long-term contracts instead of trading them away when they’re about to become rather expensive, like they usually do.

In the meantime, both Fernandez and Stanton will continue being awesome, and will surely proceed to provide us with goodies like this one:

baseball animated GIF

and this one:

(And in case you can’t tell, that ball went over the Budweiser sign. That’s what a 484-ft homerun looks like.)

 

Masahiro Tanaka looked pretty good

The highly anticipated debut of Tanaka started off with a blast, literally. Melky Cabrera had the pleasure of being the first hitter to officially welcome the Japanese right-hander to MLB, and he did so very rudely by taking Tanaka deep with the third pitch he saw from him (a splitter that was way up in the zone). It took Tanaka a few innings to fully settle in, but once he did, he showcased why teams coveted him as much as they did. His command of the fastball, which was somewhat poor in the early innings, gradually improved, as did the results he received.

His breaking stuff looked very sharp and tight throughout the entire outing, even when he did struggle at the beginning. According to Brooks Baseball, he featured as many as seven different pitches, though it’s worth noting that three of them were different types of fastballs (a fourseamer, a sinker and a cutter), and their data also registered one of his pitches as a changeup, even though it’s possible that it was actually a splitter (it clocked in at 89 MPH).

Overall, Tanaka flashed a very formidable repertoire, one that should help him get outs in all sorts of ways. Assuming he can get his command under control (and let’s be honest, making your major league debut is nerve-wracking, as Tanaka himself admitted; it’s entirely possible that the early-inning command issues were due to just that and nothing mechanical)—as he actually did once he got past the opening few innings—the Yankees can be looking at a potential future ace of the staff. After he was signed, GM Brian Cashman was quick to try and downplay the hype, claiming that Tanaka is a number three starter; however, the stuff suggests otherwise. It’s obviously important to not overreact to one start, but this is more about the actual talent and less about the results it yielded. He looked more than capable dealing with major league hitters, and if his breaking stuff is as good as it looked on Friday night, that, along with a fantastic splitter and a mid-90s fastball, should result in one of the better pitchers in the majors pretty damn soon.

 

Remember Matt Kemp?

You know, the guy who hit 39 homeruns and had a 168 wRC+ in 2011 and then hit 23 homeruns in 106 games with a 146 wRC+ in 2012; last season may have been a forgettable one, but we shouldn’t forget about Kemp. Numerous injuries kept him sidelined in 2013, and even when he did get on the field he just wasn’t the player we saw the two previous years. Whether it was recovery from shoulder surgery or hamstring issues, Kemp simply couldn’t catch a break, and it was quickly evident that it was going to be a down year for the Dodger.

This is why what we saw from him on Sunday night was so encouraging. Yeah, it’s just one game, and yeah, it’s still only the first week of the season. I get that. But on a team with the highest payroll in the history of baseball, with Hanley Ramirez coming off an incredible half-season, with Yasiel Puig being talked about 24/7, and with constant Clayton Kershaw injury updates, it’s sometimes easy to forget about a guy like Kemp—even if he was a legitimate MVP-type bat before 2013’s struggles. The two homeruns he hit off Matt Cain gave everyone a very nice reminder that this is a top-notch player, one that can truly take the Dodgers to that “next level” we all like to wax poetic about. Had the homers both been down the left-field line, it would’ve been easy to somewhat dismiss his “return” by suggesting that he may have been cheating on fastballs a bit and pulled a couple over the fence. But these were hit to left-center and center field respectively. That shows a player who’s seeing the ball well, letting it travel through the zone a bit rather than jumping on it over-aggressively in an attempt to show everyone that he’s back.

If he remains healthy, Kemp should be good enough to be in the MVP discussion once again, and that will lead to some very interesting decisions that the Dodgers will have to make with their outfield. Kemp playing at a high level means that one of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier or Puig has to sit, and I just don’t see that lasting too long.

Of course, the most important thing for the Dodgers right now is to get Kershaw back, so let’s all hope that happens very soon. We’re only a week into the season, but we already miss you Clayton, we really do.

Ran is a journalism major and a sports fanatic. As well as writing for Soccer Without Limits, he covers basketball and baseball for the Bad Man Bureau. You can contact him on Twitter @truthinwriting.

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2 Comments on MLB: Thinking Out Loud – the Marlins, Masahiro Tanaka, and Matt Kemp

  1. Marcell Ozuna on the Marlins is a young stud too. They don’t have enough experience to compete for the whole season this year, but I think they’re on the right track. They at least have a lot young, inexpensive players with a lot of upside which is more than can be said for some teams. If they build around stanton and get a good group of pitchers in that massive park, i could see them competing the NL East in the next 2-3 years.

    • Sure, I can see a potentially bright future, though it obviously mostly depends on their ability (or willingness) to sign Fernandez and Stanton long-term. My point in this post was more about the Marlins in 2014, though. The roster, right now, is simply not good enough to by anywhere near “division/wildcard winners/contenders” levels.

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