After .500 June, where do the Marlins go from here?

Going .500 over the course of the month wouldn’t be considered successful for most teams but for the rebuilding Miami Marlins, it’s a step in the right direction.

After going 20-36 through the first two months, the Marlins went 14-14 through the month of June and found their way out of the NL East cellar with a series win over the New York Mets.

“I think we started to get our identity,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, “as far as what type of baseball we need to play to win.”

While they entered July in no better position than in June, one of the reasons why it looked better was because seven of those 14 wins came in comeback fashion. Granted, most of those comeback wins came against the San Francisco Giants but the comebacks don’t occur without a strong bullpen.

The Marlins bullpen was on the of the best in June. Since Kyle Barraclough was promoted to the closer role, the bullpen was the only one in baseball to have not blown a save in June and had the third lowest ERA (2.98) in the NL behind the Giants (2.33), ironically, and the Arizona Diamondbacks (2.59). At one point, Barraclough had a 12 inning hitless streak, which was snapped on June 29, against the Mets.

The Marlins finished the month in historic fashion by sending rookie pitchers Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez back-to-back for their respective first starts. Both pitching prospects won, which hasn’t happened in the National League since Gary Nolan and Mel Queen did it for the Cincinnati Reds in April 15-16, 1967, according to Stats LLC.

“I think what we’ve seen from Pablo is just the strike throwing is impressive — strike after strike, it seemed like,” Mattingly said.

On Saturday, Lopez threw 71 strikes out of 97 pitches in six innings against New York. Mattingly found that to be a crucial takeaway from his first start.

“When you throw that many strikes it really puts you in a position to be able to use the balls that you do throw for purpose,” Mattingly said. “If he wants to be able to run the ball off the zone, run the ball up in the zone, throw the breaking ball down in the dirt, it’s going to allow him to be able to do more things as opposed to a guy that’s not throwing strikes and can’t really afford to use your pitches to set up the next pitch or the next at-bat.”

So where do the Marlins go from here? Possibly the most crucial part of their June success was their hot bats. Left fielder Derek Dietrich led the team with a .344 batting average, which was good for 6th in the league in June. Their 248 hits during the month put them in 7th in baseball.

As good as that sounds, it will have to stay that way for continued progress because most of the return through trades were pitchers. While the Marlins can bring up pitching prospects like Lopez and Alcantara, same can not be said about hitting prospects.

“We didn’t get that many position players back [in trades],” Mattingly said. “We’re going to have to develop our own guys. You can talk about Isan [Diaz] and Monte [Harrison] in deals like that, but also the guys we have coming through the system that we drafted last year. [Brian] Miller is having a good year. I don’t know if we’re talking about seeing those guys [soon] like the pitchers we brought up. Monte and Isan are both in Double-A and the other guys are a little lower than that. Position players are probably not quite as stacked up as the pitchers are.”

But at least reinforcements are supposedly on the way. Veteran third baseman Martin Prado is in the middle of a minor league rehab assignment in Single-A Jupiter while Garrett Cooper, their Opening Day right-fielder, is in Triple-A New Orleans. Mattingly hinted that both of them could be back in the fold before the All-Star break.

Cooper, who came over in a minor trade with the New York Yankees along with Caleb Smith, doesn’t fit the prospect category at 27 years of age. He’s a late-bloomer who still has plenty of potential.

“Coop’s almost like the young pitchers, we want to see what they’re able to do. We want to see what he can do over the course of the second half,” Mattingly said.

Mattingly said Cooper will get opportunities at first base and both corner outfield positions. That’s doable considering that both the left and right fielder are natural infielders and stay in the lineup despite changing positions. Cooper is a career .306 hitter with 46 homers in 464 games in the minors over six seasons.

“I think we see the swing that is probably a lot more like (Brian Anderson) who uses the whole field, is kind of right-center [field] as a right-handed hitter. A guy that’s kind of hitting first and power will be coming as it goes,” Mattingly said. “It’s a good swing and a swing that should really be able to work all over the field. That type of swing usually hits good pitching.”

Whether or not the Marlins can continue progressing forward in July will likely decide what will happen in the trade deadline at the end of July.

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About: Tony Capobianco

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Sports Kave senior writer

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