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7/16/2014 12:42 P.M. ET

Marlins within striking distance of making playoff run

After already taking big strides from last season, Miami is ready for strong second half

MIAMI -- At the midway point, the Marlins can sum up their season as a mixture of encouragement and disappointment. They've made tremendous strides since losing 100 games a year ago, but Miami has also squandered a number of games that could have kept it closer to the leaders in the National League East.

Midterm Report 2014
At the break
Club breakdowns
First-half highlights

"I don't [think] I'd ever say discouraged, because you can rewind a year, and that was discouraging," said Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill. "So many good things have gone on in the first half of the season. You look at [Henderson] Alvarez. You look at a healthy [Giancarlo] Stanton. You look at the development of our young prospects and what they're doing."

All things considered, the youthful Marlins have certainly held their own. Miami has remained competitive and exciting during a time it has been without its ace, Jose Fernandez, who underwent Tommy John surgery in mid-May. Behind slugger Stanton and big production from third baseman Casey McGehee, the Marlins are within striking distance of September playoff races, and they have the potential to make things interesting in the second half.

Five key developments in the first half

1. Jose Fernandez surgery 
By far the most jarring news of the season was when Fernandez's right elbow gave out, putting the club in position of trying to contend without perhaps the top right-hander in the NL.

2. Healthy Giancarlo Stanton 
Production has never been an issue for the 24-year-old two-time All-Star -- it's been Stanton's health. Stanton has been able to stay on the field, and not surprisingly, his numbers have been staggering.

3. Hits McGehee
Who would hit behind behind Stanton in the lineup was one of the Marlins' biggest questions entering the season. McGehee answered that emphatically, and he has repeatedly made teams pay for pitching around their slugger.

First-half awards
MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
The most feared hitter in the lineup is also having an MVP-caliber season, as he could flirt with franchise single-season home run record of 42 set by Gary Sheffield in 1996.
Top starter: Henderson Alvarez
No one can replace the loss of Jose Fernandez, but Alvarez did his part, stepped up and became an All-Star.
Top rookie: Justin Bour
Not too many rookies have been on the squad this season. Bour and Sam Dyson are the only ones currently on the roster. Bour has shown promise as a lefty bat off the bench.
Top reliever: Steve Cishek
Aside from a couple of hiccups in recent weeks, Cishek had been enjoying an All-Star-worthy season. The righty recorded 20 saves in the first half.

4. Henderson Alvarez becomes an All-Star 
You can call Alvarez a number of things -- quirky, fun-loving and unconventional come to mind. You can also call Alvarez an All-Star. In the absence of Fernandez, Alvarez has stepped up in the rotation like a true No. 1.

5. Steve Cishek saves 
Cishek has been a constant in a Marlins bullpen that has been in flux this season. The right-hander may have had his franchise-record streak of 33 straight converted saves snapped in April, but he's been one of the most dependable closers in the NL.

Five storylines to watch for in the second half

1. Staying the course?
As the Trade Deadline approaches, rumors certainly will surface surrounding Stanton. The club has made it public that Stanton is not on the trade block, but what about Cishek? If the Marlins stay competitive or get over .500 by the end of the month, the core likely will be together. If not, some moves -- not necessarily Stanton -- may end up being made.

2. Patching up the rotation
You can't replace Fernandez, but you can look for rotation additions. That is an area the organization says it will explore until the end of the month. The Marlins have trade pieces in their system they could consider moving to add a starter who has controllable years. That's important because Fernandez won't be ready next Opening Day.

Players to watch
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
A concussion sidelined Saltalamacchia for a few weeks in June. The veteran catcher has had his ups and downs in the first half as he adjusts to being back in the NL.
A.J. Ramos
Miami's most reliable setup reliever for most of the first half, Ramos finished the first half on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder. Ramos is expected to join the team on Friday.
Derek Dietrich
While second base is up for grabs, Dietrich is on the disabled list with a right wrist strain. Opportunity awaits if he can show consistency with the glove and bat.

3. Figuring out second base 
Rafael Furcal was expected to be the answer, but injuries limited him to just nine games in the first half. There is hope he can be ready sometime late in the season, but second base remains unsettled. Derek Dietrich has struggled, and he currently is on the disabled list. While Donovan Solano and Ed Lucas have handled the spot, trades are being explored.

4. Can Casey keep it going? 
McGehee has been the surprise story of the first half for Miami. He's been valuable, and is making a case for the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award. McGehee has provided protection for Stanton and has also been a big run producer himself. He has the kind of approach that could net him around 100 RBIs. Can he keep up the pace?

5. Will Heaney rejoin rotation?
There was a lot of expectations when Andrew Heaney was promoted from Triple-A to the big leagues in late June. But in four starts, the lefty had his troubles minimizing damage, which led to being optioned shortly before the All-Star break. If Heaney can sharpen up his stuff over the next few weeks, he could be the equivalent of adding a quality starter in the second half.

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.