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Giancarlo Stanton is back, but is it too late for the Marlins?

Wednesday’s Say Hey, Baseball includes the Marlins’ tough road ahead, the Pirates’ horrible ninth inning, and the Matt Harvey decision, one year later.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

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On Tuesday, the Marlins announced that Giancarlo Stanton was returning from the disabled list, at least three weeks before even the most optimistic expectation. That’s good news for Miami, as Stanton is one of the best hitters in the majors and had rebounded his 2016 after a slow start. Well, until a groin strain knocked him to the DL, anyway. The problem is that the team Stanton is coming back to is in a far different situation than the one he left: On August 14, the day they lost Stanton, the Marlins were 61-56 and a half-game out of a wild card spot. They woke up on Wednesday morning 68-71, riding a five-game losing streak and a 1-9 record in their last 10 games, six games back of a wild card, and trailing the Mets and Pirates.

Stanton is a wonderful player, but he’s not enough to close this newly opened gap on his own. Since August 15, the rotation has produced a 4.10 ERA, which is closer to average than bad. However, the lineup has hit just .236/.294/.355 over the same stretch, and things have been even worse in pitcher-friendly Marlins Park, where Miami slugged under .300 as a team. Stanton can help bring those numbers up, but still, he’s just the one player. The Marlins need the whole lineup to get back to what it was doing before his injury, or else it won’t matter that the rotation seems to have stabilized.

There’s another problem here, too, and it’s that Stanton isn’t actually back to be a regular just yet. He’s limited to pinch-hit duties, and it’s unclear how long that will be his role before he can try to help for four or more plate appearances per day instead of one timely one. This is probably too little, too late, even with the Pirates sliding back in the race, as Miami has three games left against the Dodgers, three against the Mets, and six against the Nationals. Unless they win a significant chunk of those and keep the Phillies and Braves from victory in their other series, the damage done in Stanton’s absence is likely irreversible.