Early Schedule Demands Spring Out of Spring
By Sean Millerick
With only 15 games remaining until the start of the 2015 season, and with bracket selections and fantasy drafts now behind me, the time seems right to size up the schedule awaiting the Miami Marlins when they break camp. And that schedule, suffice it to say, should give every friend of the Fish considerable pause. Some would argue the season doesn’t really start until the summer, with April numbers often being all but dismissed. Others rejoin that every game counts, while both sides tout out the timeless cliché that the season is a marathon, and not a sprint to make their case. But if this year’s squad wants to meet any of their well-deserved expectations, the schedule makers might well have denied them the luxury of an early stumble out of the gates.
It’s not that it’s an exceptionally difficult start to the year. The Marlins don’t play a team expected to finish above .500 in their first nine games, in fact taking on an April slate with a 12-10 split in favor of teams projected to finish far worse than them in the standings. The wrinkle is who those opponents are, as they would be almost exclusively division rivals. The split between NL East and not sits at a stunning 19-3, the exception being a three game set against the Rays (who ironically enough for you geography fans are also an Eastern division team). Every team in the division is faced, with a breakdown of Mets 7, Braves 6, Phillies and Nationals 3. The first seven games of May are no different by the way, resulting in a stretch of twenty-two consecutive games against the division following that Tampa series. That’s a 25-3 mark to start the year, meaning that the Marlins will have played nearly 33% of their total division slate for the season by the time they’ve completed barely 17% of the schedule overall. If the Marlins truly mean to challenge the Nats for the NL East crown, a strong April is a must.
That is particularly the case given what awaits the club in May. Including that first week, May holds 13 intra-division matchups, once more providing a taste of all four NL East teams. What May also adds however is a schedule weighted 19-10 towards teams projected to finish over .500. More to the point, all but three of those .500 plus matchups are against teams that made the playoffs last year. In fact, out of the season’s first fifty-one games, only ten are against teams that aren’t either a division rival or expected to be a fellow NL wild card challenger. And of the ten, three are against the Orioles- a contender for a Junior Circuit wild-card berth, if not the AL East itself. The final seven would be the aforementioned Rays and the lowly Diamondbacks- all seven of which will be played at Marlins Park. The overall home-away split for all of this excitement is 25-26, with a doozy of 10 game Nats-Giants-Dodgers road trip tucked within it.
So there it is- quite the opener to the season. Some variety will follow though. The Marlins will close May exactly the same way they’ll close April- against the Mets. Following that series, they next play an NL East opponent….on July 17th , after the All-Star break. By that point they will also have completed their season series against the Dodgers, Giants, and Cubs by the way- meaning that the best chance to gain an upper-hand in the post season race would definitely be on the front nine. Again, one could object that a lot could happen in 162 games. In fact, on first glance, a fairly obvious example of a slow start not mattering comes from our own history- just look to 2003. That team- the one that played well enough to get their manager fired at the 16-22 point, and dropped as low as 19-29 before truly righting the ship-played 20 straight games against their division in April, and would eventually go on to win the World Series. But that club was just a tick under .500 in April, and actually reached it May 1st before going on a cheery 4-14 slide. So they at least didn’t blow April(9-11 against the East), and didn’t face the Braves or Phillies again until the last day of June, by which point they’d rounded into form. A lot of similarities have been thrown around between that ’03 squad and this ’15 model. It would be in this year’s squad’s best interest not to make an early hole one of them. There’s a reason 2003 was remarkable after all.