May 31, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins catcher Nick Fortes (4) celebrates with teammates after hitting the game winning RBI against the San Diego Padres at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

What a pleasantly surprising spring it has been for South Florida sports. After finishing with so-so regular-season results, the NBA's Miami Heat and NHL's Florida Panthers find themselves just four victories from winning it all in their respective leagues.

What are the chances that the Miami Marlins can join them by getting into Major League Baseball's postseason and going on a run?

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Heading into June, with just over 100 games left on the regular-season schedule, playoff spots remain up for grabs across MLB. It's particularly tight in the National League, where no teams is more than five games out of the wild card. Among the biggest surprises are the Marlins, who have the same record as the big-spending New York Mets.

If the playoffs started tomorrow, as they put it, the Fish would be swimming in them.

The Marlins don't necessarily need to worry about overtaking the Atlanta Braves in the NL East to get some postseason love. Like their NBA and NHL counterparts, who each reached their championship series as No. 8 seeds, the Marlins have wiggle room. They're four games out of first place, but they're a half-game in front in the NL wild card race after a dramatic 2-1 victory against the San Diego Padres at loanDepot Park on Wednesday night.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning against San Diego's formidable closer, Josh Hader, Marlins catcher Nick Fortes lined a tie-breaking RBI single to right field, bringing in Jean Segura with the winning run. The Marlins improved to 29-27 after winning for the fourth time in five games. To do so against one of the best relief pitchers in MLB makes it "a special night," manager Skip Schumaker told reporters.

October is still a long way away, but if you told the Marlins that on June 1 they'd be in a better position than the Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, and Padres (not to mention six other NL teams), it would have been most welcome news. Aside from simply having a winning record, how the Marlins have done it might be even more encouraging.

The Panthers and Heat reached their respective Final(s) with similar formulas. Most of their rosters aren't star-laden but instead feature talented, hard-working grinders. Don't call them role players. However, they are players who know their roles and execute them well. The Heat (Jimmy Butler) and Panthers (Matthew Tkachuk) also are led by stars who keep coming through in high-leverage moments.

Like with their NBA and NHL brethren, Schumaker's team is also showing signs of being better than the sum of its parts. The Marlins' success has come with some of their best players not necessarily getting their best results.


Marlins vs. Padres: Nick Fortes walks it off!

Before he landed on the injured list with turf toe, Jazz Chisholm was a revelation in center field on defense, and he clubbed seven home runs with 14 stolen bases. But his overall offensive punch (.229/.291/.403) in 39 games wasn't to his All-Star level of 2022. His underlying numbers indicate someone who should hit better once he heals up.

Ace right-hander Sandy Alcántara isn't getting results (4.93 ERA) like he did during his NL Cy Young season in 2022, but he remains one of the hardest throwers in the league and is still effective at missing barrels and getting batters to chase. So the smart money would be on Alcántara having a strong second half.

Chisholm and Alcántara can be the Marlins' Butler or Tkachuk.

The Marlins also have been missing one of their best relievers, with closer A.J. Puk on the shelf since mid-May because of a sore elbow. He remains on injury rehab but projects to return this month. The rest of the bullpen — namely Dylan Floro, Tanner Scott and Matt Barnes — has been effective enough.

The Fish have two players in the lineup tipping the All-Star scales. Infielder Luís Arráez has been one of the top hitters in the league (.376/.432/.462) despite his old-school and unconventional approach, and outfielder Jorge Soler, while not yet an All-Star in his career, is batting .248/.333/.550 with 17 home runs — which ties him for third in the league. Soler has had great offensive seasons before and famously thrived during an MVP postseason with the Braves in 2021 when they won the World Series.

Yuli Gurriel, Bryan De La Cruz and Jésus Sánchez have had above-average results for the first two months of the season. Segura has had a rough time at the plate overall, but a hot streak in the second half wouldn't be surprising from the two-time All-Star.

Left-hander Jesús Luzardo and rookie Eury Pérez have been the Marlins' best starting pitchers. Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett give Miami the starting pitching depth that most teams envy — even if the results aren't yet as good as they could be.

Overall, the Marlins rank 15th in runs allowed and 27th in runs scored. To make the playoffs — and possibly make noise in them — they'll need to be a top-10 pitching club, which was a popular expectation before the season. Also, if they could reach the middle of the pack offensively, they would be dangerous against any opponent.

The MLB grind is only just beginning. But if the Marlins can have better luck with their collective health in the coming weeks and get 3-4 more hitters going at the plate, they can make some playoff magic of their own on South Beach come October.

Hey, when in Rome — or Miami.


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