The Phillies begin a 3-game series in Miami tonight vs the Marlins and I was fortunate enough to do a Q&A with Brendan Taylor of Tru School Sports, who is a fan of the team, to preview the upcoming series.
EG: How important is this series vs the Philadelphia Phillies for this Miami Marlins team?
BT: For the Marlins, it's very important. They are coming off a season long 11-game road trip that saw them go 4-7 and lose their #1 starter in Jose Fernandez to an injury. How they respond after minimal success will be a good barometer of where this Marlins team is at, especially against a division rival in the Phillies who are struggling right now.
EG: How huge of a loss is the Jose Fernandez injury?
BT: That's a very huge loss for the Marlins. We are talking about arguably the best pitcher in the game right now, he is as good as it gets from a pitching standpoint in the major leagues and I think its not only a huge loss for the Marlins but baseball in general he's an exciting player. Luckily for the Marlins this rotation has lots of depth with young guys such as Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner now its their time to show the baseball world that theirs is more to the Marlins pitching rotation than just Jose Fernandez.
EG: Giancarlo Stanton has been amazing this season; how should the Phillies approach him and try to slow him down?
BT: I think with Giancarlo you just got to make sure you don't put yourself in a position to not get hurt too bad and that means you must get the other hitters in the Marlins lineup out and limit the amount of base runners while he is at the plate. The fact of the matter is that right now this guy is playing at an MVP level. He leads the national league with 43 runs batted in and is 2nd in home runs with 12 behind only Troy Tulowitzki. The interesting thing about Stanton is that now he is becoming a more complete hitter, when he first came into the league he was always trying to flex his muscles and hit a home run. Now he's learned to stay patient and just make contact with the ball which in turn has him hitting at a career high .318 clip right now. He's only 24-years old and I think what we are seeing is a hitter who was once playing checkers but now is playing chess. For Phillies pitchers just get ahead in the count and don't make to many mistakes.
EG: Who will be the x-factor for the Marlins in this series? Who do the Phillies need to focus on and worry about?
BT: Marcell Ozuna is a guy in the lineup I see as an X-factor this series; he kind of gets lost in the shuffle behind guys like Stanton, Yellich and Fernandez but make no mistake about it this guy is dangerous. He usually hits around 6th-7th in the order and is a guy I feel is due for a breakout series versus a less than stellar Phillies pitching rotation. He's 2-12 (.167) in his last 7 games and has really been struggling so I'll go out on a limb and say he gets something going this series. He is a good young player with some upside and has some power in that bat so if the Phillies fall asleep on Ozuna it could be a reawakening for the native of Santo Domingo.
Ozuna is one guy but another one is Casey McGhee, If you want to find out the biggest reason for Giancarlo Stanton's stellar start look no further than McGhee. The Marlins signed him from the Japanese league in the offseason in a move that flew under the radar. He's provided some protection at the cleanup spot that Stanton has never had throughout the course of his entire career. Obviously nobody expected him to hit as well as he has but remember that he was no slouch in his Brewer days when he hit 23 home runs and drove in 104 runs. So far this year he has driven in 28 runs for the fish and has easily been one of the best value pickups in baseball thus far. The Phillies need to worry about him as well.
EG: What is your series prediction?
BT: My prediction is the Marlins winning 2 out of 3, at the end of the day they are a ball club who played terrible on the road and was lucky to win 4 games I'm sure they couldn't be happier to be back in South Florida. They need these wins and sadly the Phillies will have to be the sacrificial lamb this over the next few days. The Phillies are below average in both hitting and pitching and are going to have their hands full with the fish. I'm not underestimating them but you have to believe that the Marlins will have a sense of urgency from start to finish this series.