SAN DIEGO — The Marlins were hoping Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Casey McGehee would bring a winning mentality and ray of life to a punchless team that couldn’t score and lost often.
So far, it’s mission accomplished.
Not only were the Marlins tied atop the standings as they opened an 11-game road trip Thursday with a late game against the San Diego Padres, but are turning heads with their dramatic turnaround at the plate.
Directly and indirectly, Saltalamacchia and McGehee are two of the major reasons for the sudden upswing.
Last season, the Marlins ranked dead last — 30th of the 30 major league teams — in terms of offensive production the team received from its catchers and third basemen. Rob Brantly and Jeff Mathis handled most of the catching chores while Placido Polanco and Ed Lucas manned the hot corner most often.
• Thanks to Saltalamacchia, the Marlins rank 2nd in the majors in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) at catcher.
• Because of McGehee, the Marlins are 8th overall in OPS at third base.
“Those are definitely two areas we looked to upgrade,” manager Mike Redmond said of the two off-season signings. “Salty was a guy that was targeted early for not only what he brings offensively, but what he brings defensively. Casey McGehee, too. Their production has been phenomenal.”
The Marlins signed Saltalamacchia to a 3-year deal worth $21 million. McGehee, who is trying to re-establish himself in the majors after spending last season in Japan, came at a bargain: $1.1 million for one year.
The trickle-down effect has been obvious.
The Marlins averaged only 3.16 runs per game last season, worst in the majors. So far this season, they’re scoring runs at a clip of 4.48 per game, which is eighth in MLB and second in the National League.
Using OPS as a gauge, the Marlins have improved at all eight non-pitcher positions, not just catcher and third base, in large part due to their presence in the lineup.
“They’ve taken pressure off [Giancarlo] Stanton,” said Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill, who added newcomer Garrett Jones to the list of acquisitions who have played a role in the improvement. “They’ve taken pressure off the kids and guys have been able to be just who they are.”
Last season, the Marlins ranked 26th or worse in the majors offensively at every position except right field (Stanton). This season, they rank in the top 10 at five positions and no worse than 24th at any of them.
“Those two guys have been a big part of our success,” Redmond said.
Part of what attracted the Marlins to Saltalamacchia and McGehee were their championship pedigrees. Both won titles a season ago — Saltalamacchia the World Series with the Boston Red Sox and McGehee the Japan League Series with the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
The two veterans have been a positive influence in the clubhouse.
Saltalamacchia has kept things loose with his penchant for practical jokes while McGehee is helping to change the clubhouse culture by sitting at his locker while still in uniform — instead of dressing quickly and leaving — long after games have ended.
But it’s on the field where their contributions have been most apparent.
“[They are] hitting 4 and 5 in the order and getting big hits and their production has been phenomenal,” Redmond said. “You’ve got to have guys that can hit in the middle of that order. Those two guys have been a big part of our success.”
Said Hill: “That was always the goal, to create a deeper lineup and ultimately the cumulative effect of the sum of the pieces would make a more productive offense, and thus far this season it’s worked out very well.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Manny Navarro contributed to this report.