Opposite dugout: Marlins start another season of high expectations in D.C.

marlins-logo.jpgManager: Don Mattingly (2nd season)

Record: 79-82 (third in NL East in 2016)

Last 10 games: Season opener

Who to watch: RF Giancarlo Stanton (27 HR, 74 RBIs), CF Marcell Ozuna (23 HR, 76 RBIs), LF Christian Yelich (.298, 21 HR, 98 RBIs), RHP Dan Straily (14-8, 3.76 ERA), AJ Ramos (2.81 ERA with 40 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: First meeting (9-10 in 2016)

Pitching probables:

April 3: RHP Edinson Volquez (10-11, 5.37 ERA) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 3.60 ERA), 1:05 p.m., MASN
April 5: RHP Dan Straily (14-8, 3.76 ERA) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (16-10, 2.83 ERA), 7:05 p.m., MASN
April 6: RHP Tom Koehler (9-13, 4.33 ERA) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (20-7, 2.96 ERA), 4:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Marlins:

The pain of José Fernández's tragic death late last season may never leave the Marlins. Only those who have experienced the death of a teammate can speak to how hard it is continue playing after such a traumatic event. But while the Fish honor their fallen All-Star pitcher throughout this season, they have something else to play for in 2017: their first playoff appearance since 2003.

The Marlins had high expectations entering their first season under manager Don Mattingly in 2016, and after some big offseason signings, they might have loftier goals for the skipper's sophomore season at the helm.

A 79-92 record last season gave the Marlins their best winning percentage since 2010, leaving the club knocking on the door of contention. So adding names like catcher A.J. Ellis, and right-handers Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily and Brad Ziegler couldn't hurt, right? While Ellis provides solid backstop depth, Volquez and Straily make up the top two spots in Miami's starting rotation. Volquez, who signed a two-year, $22 million deal as a free agent on Dec. 1, is coming off back-to-back campaigns with double-digit wins for the Royals, while Straily brings his team-best 14-8 record and 3.76 ERA in a January trade with the Reds. Meanwhile, Ziegler adds some experience to the back end of the bullpen, posting a 2.25 ERA in a combined 69 outings between Arizona and Boston in his ninth major league season last year.

A familiar face the Nationals will see in this opening season is righty Tom Koehler, and you better believe Bryce Harper has April 6 circled on his calendar. Harper slashes .344/.447/.938 with a career-best six home runs to go along with 11 RBIs against Koehler.

Offensively for the Marlins, the conversation always has to start with Giancarlo Stanton. But unfortunately for the Fish faithful that conversation always starts with Stanton's health. According to ESPN.com, the right fielder has missed 23 percent of the Marlins schedule during his young career. But when he's on the field, Stanton displays incredible power; he managed to lead the Marlins with 27 homers last year despite only playing 119 games, but has hit 34-plus homers in three seasons since 2010. Center fielder Marcell Ozuna and left fielder Christian Yelich combined for 44 longballs and 174 RBIs last season. And while starting catcher J.T. Realmuto and third baseman Martín Prado don't much hit for power, they each hit above .300 in 2016 with .343 and .359 on-base percentages, respectively.

Even with the addition of proven closer Ziegler, AJ Ramos will continue to assume the closer's role for the Marlins. Ramos posted a 2.81 ERA while recording 40 saves last year, good for fourth-best in the National League.

So the pieces are there for Mattingly's club to challenge the Nationals and Mets for the top spot in the NL East. But whether or not they actually do remains to be seen. Some pundits believe this has been said about the Marlins for the past couple of years with nothing to show for it.

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