On a seemingly different Marlins ballclub and rotation possibilities

In recent years, the Marlins have served as the doormat of the National League East.

They've lost at least 90 games each of the last three seasons - including a 100-loss campaign last year - and finished anywhere from 29 to 34 games out of first place in the division.

Last year, the Nationals took 14 of their 19 games against Miami, outscoring the Marlins 86-52 in those contests.

You saw the Marlins coming up on your schedule, you could typically pencil in at least a couple of wins.

That won't necessarily be the case this year, however. The Marlins have assembled a roster with plenty of potential, are off to a 5-2 start to the season, and sit atop the division through the season's first week. The Fish have outscored their opponents 42-21 to begin the season, are hitting .294 as a team and have gotten some dynamite pitching performances early on.

The leader of that Marlins pitching staff, of course, is right-hander Jose Fernandez, who many feel is the leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award this season with Clayton Kershaw potentially missing a chunk of the year with a strained left teres major muscle.

Fernandez is already 2-0 this season, having allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts. The 21-year-old phenom posted a 0.69 ERA in his two starts against the Nats last season.

Do the Marlins have enough to contend in the NL East this season? No, probably not. They have Fernandez and a rotation filled with plenty of potential (it will be interesting to see how a pair of Miami's 24-year-old righties, Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, progress this season), but seemingly not a lot of offensive firepower.

Giancarlo Stanton will obviously mash if he can stay healthy, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a nice addition behind the plate and the Marlins are waiting for a few younger position players - shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, left fielder Christian Yelich and center fielder Marcell Ozuna - to come around offensively.

But while the Marlins likely won't be a legitimate contender this season, it looks like they could cause some problems for teams, and probably won't be a pushover like they were in recent years.

If you asked me for a surprise team within the division this year, it'd be Miami.

The Nats will face the Marlins six times in the next nine days, three at Nats Park from tonight until Thursday and then three in Miami early next week. And the pitching matchups for this three-game set in D.C. could be interesting.

strasburg red pitch sidebar.jpgIf the Marlins want to, they can use yesterday's off-day to shuffle their rotation and send Fernandez out to the mound on Thursday on normal rest. The Nats can do the same with Stephen Strasburg, which could give us a tremendous battle of right-handers.

Gio Gonzalez is scheduled to start tonight for the Nats against Alvarez, but Gonzalez was dealing with a bout of the flu over the weekend. The Nats sent him home on Saturday, and while he was back in the dugout Sunday and should be fine after a couple days of rest, we won't know his status for sure until we get to the park today.

Wednesday's Nats starter is still up in the air. Manager Matt Williams had Tanner Roark warming in the bullpen on Sunday, and following that game, Williams declined to reveal exactly how his rotation will shake out for this series against Miami. He could have Roark start Wednesday's game, or could move up Jordan Zimmermann, who would be on normal rest on Wednesday. That would allow Strasburg to start Thursday's contest, with the Nats effectively skipping Roark's turn in the rotation.

We shall see how the Nats want to handle it.

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