The remains of the season: Florida Marlinsby Craig Strain
August 12, 2008
The Florida Marlins find themselves in the middle of the hunt for the NL East title. The Fish just finished a 3-3 road trip against the Phillies and the Mets and are 2.5 games out of first. The Marlins now head back to South Florida to take on the Cardinals for four and the Cubs for three.
But before we look ahead, let's see how in the world the Marlins got into this position, for it may tell us something about what lies ahead.
At the start of the season, everyone, including me, picked the Marlins to finish either last or next-to-last in the NL East, with good reason. Sure, the team could hit, but the first three in the starting rotation consisted of Mark Hendrickson, Rick VandenHurk and Andrew Miller. While VandenHurk and Miller have the talent to one day be quality major league starters, they aren't there yet. Scott Olsen was recovering from shoulder tendinitis and Ricky Nolasco was still trying to build arm strength after missing all of 2007 with an elbow injury. Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez were nowhere in sight after having surgery during the offseason. Johnson had the Tommy John procedure and Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery.
Needless to say. the starting rotation performed as advertised in the early going, Olsen and Nolasco were still rehabbing, but in the majors. Hendrickson, VandenHurk and Miller spent most of their time trying to make it through to the fifth. But the one thing no one thought about when making predictions was the Marlins bullpen. For most of the year and especially most of the first half, the Marlins' pen saved the day. They were able to come in and clean up the messes. By keeping the team in the game, they allowed the bats to catch up. The Marlins lead the majors with 33 come-from-behind wins.
Eventually, Nolasco and Olsen came into form and the Marlins now had two quality starters and three other guys who might throw a good game every now and then. At least the bullpen got a couple of days off every week.
And then Santa Claus came in July. Josh Johnson made his first start of the season on July 10. Chris Volstad took the mound for his first start on July 11 and Anibal Sanchez joined the party on July 31.
Marlins starting pitchers
Pitcher ERA+ Scott Olsen 103 Ricky Nolasco 106 Josh Johnson 124 Chris Volstad 155 Anibal Sanchez 98 Mark Hendrickson 72 Rick VandenHurk 54 Andrew Miller 74 Burke Badenhop 68 Ryan Tucker 49
VandenHurk, Miller, Badenhop and Tucker are now all down in the minors for further development. Hendrickson is mainly being used as an innings eater in blowout games.
When the season started, the Marlins hitters did what they do best: come out of their shoes when they swing. For most of the season, the Marlins led the majors in home runs. And they may still when the season ends but some of the more profligate home run hitters are in a bit of a slump. (But more on that later.)
The Marlins are the first team in the history of the National League to have all four infielders hit at least 20 home runs. And they are on pace to be the only team ever in MLB history to have all four infielders hit at least 25 home runs. Currently, Dan Uggla has 26, Hanley Ramirez 25, Mike Jacobs 24 and Jorge Cantu 20.
The Marlins are dead last in the NL in sacrifice hits. The Fish don't play small ball. However, they are fourth in the NL in extra base hits while playing half their games in a pitchers' home park.
The one good feature of swinging as hard as you can is that the team doesn't ground into many double plays. In fact, the Marlins have hit into only 65 this season, the second lowest total in the NL behind Milwaukee's 61.
The Marlins have four of their five starters from 2006 back. As has been pointed out, this is not the same group that put up those, shall we say, less-than-desirable numbers earlier in the season.
The bullpen is still looking strong and with the September call-ups just ahead, should finish the season without a lot of wear and tear.
The offense, unfortunately, is in a slump. Since the All-Star break, the Marlins are only hitting .236/.325/.397, off from the before-break averages of .256/.321/.441.
The main culprits for the decline are Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Cody Ross. Since the break, Ramirez is hitting .217/.347/.361 as opposed to his before-break numbers of .311/.391/.566. Uggla during this time is .179/.273/.333 and before the All-Star game was producing at .286/.374/.605. Ross since July 17 is hitting .203/.295./.362; pre-break he was batting .266/.316/.512.
Going on the theory that none of the three has forgotten how to hit, they will eventually emerge from their slumber and start putting up good numbers again.
The Marlins have, at the time I am writing this, 22 home games and 20 road games left on the schedule. Unfortunately, most of those are against teams in contention, including traveling to Arizona for three and St. Louis for three. The good news is that the Marlins still have six games each with the Phillies and the Mets and therefore can control their own destiny. On the negative side, the Marlins play the Braves six times before the end of season and that is a team they just haven't figured out how to beat consistently.
The Marlins haven't lost more than four games in a row all season and they did that twice—once in May and the other time in June. On the flip side, the Marlins' longest win streak this season is seven games.
The Fish are grinders and they're not going away. It is possible that the Phillies or the Mets could go on a run and run away, but I don't see that happening. I'm guessing when that final series takes place in New York against the Mets, it will mean something more to the Marlins than just the chance to play spoiler.
Craig Strain is the main author of Fish Stripes, a Florida Marlins blog.
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