Here's a look at the Miami Marlins, who the Pirates face in a three-game set starting tonight.
POSITION PLAYERS: .260/.314/.364. 4.9 fWAR, eighth in NL. The Marlins' offense has been led by Dee Gordon, who has cooled off somewhat in the past 10 days but who's still hitting .376/.407/.453 with 17 steals. That's not going to continue, and Gordon's walk rate leaves a lot to be desired for a player with little power, but he can still induce headaches with his combination of batting average and speed. Giancarlo Stanton has only hit .228 so far this season, but with 12 home runs. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and outfielder Marcell Ozuna are off to good starts.
Michael Morse has been one of the offseason's worst free agent signings so far, and Christian Yelich has had a poor season after getting a big extension a few months back. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is already out at catcher, and the Marlins have replaced him with J.T. Realmuto, who has a good reputation for working with pitchers but doesn't have much going on offensively.
Oh -- and Ichiro! The Marlins have Ichiro. He isn't the player he used to be, and it's a shame that he's caught up in the weird things the Marlins are doing right now (see below), but the man's a legend.
PITCHING: 4.02 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 3.96 xFIP. 4.2 fWAR, seventh in NL. The Marlins' team stats aren't going to matter much in this series, though, because injuries to Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos and Jarred Cosart (in addition to Jose Fernandez, who still hasn't returned after having Tommy John surgery) have them juggling their rotation. David Phelps will pitch Monday night, and the former Yankee continues to be a passable back-end type, putting up reasonable numbers in most categories without standing out in many of them. He does have a 3.21 ERA this year, which is largely a function of the fact that he hasn't yet allowed a home run.
The Marlins' starters for Tuesday and Wednesday haven't yet been announced. One of them likely will be Jose Urena, a decent 23-year-old prospect who has a 1.21 ERA at Triple-A New Orleans but with a pedestrian 5.3 K/9. MLB.com ranks him the Marlins' second-best prospect, noting that he throws hard and has a good changeup but doesn't have a great breaking ball. The other starter could be Justin Nicolino (a lefty who's had good minor-league ERAs but witheringly small strikeout rates) or possibly Brad Hand, a lefty swingman type. None of those options are particularly attractive ones in the short term -- which, of course, is understandable, given how many starters the Marlins are missing.
Miami's best reliever has been A.J. Ramos, who has 11.0 K/9 and who's lately been pressed into closer duty after Steve Cishek's implosion. The Marlins' token anonymous, talented, hard-throwing righty is Sam Dyson, whose strikeout rate has spiked this year while he's averaged 95.4 MPH with his fastball. Former Pirate Bryan Morris has cooled off after a terrific 2014 stretch run with the Marlins, posting a 4.30 ERA thus far (although with a 63.1 percent ground ball rate).
OUTLOOK: The Marlins currently sit in last place in the NL East, behind even the Phillies. They're a talented team, though, and their struggles this season are partially attributable to injuries. It's hard not to like any team that contains talents like Stanton, Yelich and Fernandez. But they're still a clown show of an organization, as their recent decision to hire GM Dan Jennings as manager showed.
I don't want to be too hard on the Marlins, because they've shown over the years that they know how to develop talent, and because some of the things that make them a clown organization also make them fun. But the Jennings decision in particular had to be infuriating to any manager who takes his job seriously. Jennings has no significant background as a coach and no recent background as a player. Meanwhile, dozens upon dozens of hardworking managerial candidates toil in the minor leagues or in big-league coaching positions, presumably operating with the belief that you can improve at coaching by actually doing it. Jennings' hire stands in flagrant opposition to that belief -- it suggests that anyone in a front office can perfect the tactical and people skills necessary to manage without having set foot in a dugout during a game.
Of course, it isn't surprising that the Marlins would be the team to try this. Jennings is the 12th manager the Marlins have had since 2001, counting both of Jack McKeon's stints. The team cycles through players and front-office strategies like a department store changes inventory. They operate on Jeffrey Loria's whims, not in the measured, responsible way a competent executive would. They continue to skimp on payroll and suffer through attendance problems even though they've got a brand-new ballpark and are playing in a big market. This isn't a serious franchise, and the Jennings move was one of their silliest yet, or at least it appears to be. Let's hope Clint Hurdle manages circles around Jennings this week.