Friday, June 23, 2006

The Fish Will Rise to the Top

Okay, that's not how the saying really goes, but these are definitely not your Father's Florida Marlins, or your brother's, or anyone else's. The Marlins were completely dismantled in the off-season, leaving Joe Girardi with a team that most outsiders looked on as a bunch of little leaguers. And the season certainly started out that way. But since May 22 the Marlins have gone a league best 19-7 to raise their record to 30-38 and ahead of Washington and Atlanta in the NL East. At the moment the Marlins look like the Braves and the Braves look like the Marlins, having lost 10 in a row.

The Marlins had their 9 game winning streak snapped by Baltimore on Wednesday, but rallied last night in the 9th to tie the game against Chris Ray, who hadn't blown a save all season, and won in extra innings. The team has done it with just 2 stars, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, and a plethora of rookies. 19 first year players have donned Marlins uniforms this season.

One of the main reasons the Marlins are winning is their good young pitching. Willis was the runner up in last year's NL Cy Young voting, but got off to a very rocky start this season. Many blamed his appearance in the World Baseball Classic for his problems. Perhaps it was because he was in a funk knowing the team around him was not built to win in the near future. Whatever the reason, the "real" Willis has re-appeared. After three straight horrendous outings to start the month of May, Willis was 1-4 with a 6.22 ERA. In his seven starts since then, he's gone 3-2 with a 2.47 ERA and has gone 7 more innings in all but one start.

The 24-yr old Willis is joined in the rotation by 22-yr old rookies Josh Johnson (6-4, 2.01) and Scott Olsen (6-3, 4.60), 24-yr old rookie Ricky Nolasco (5-4, 3.15), and 10-year veteran Brian Moehler (5-5, 6.29). Veteran Joe Borowski, one of only 4 30+ year old players, is the team's closer. The Marlins also have Sergio Mitre on the 60 day DL with shoulder inflammation. The 25-yr old right hander, acquired from the Cubs, has a tremendous up-side.

Miguel Cabrera is just 23, but is already in his 3rd full season in the majors. Of course Cabrera is no ordinary player. As a 20-yr old rookie Cabrera was a key to the Marlins 2003 World Series championship, hitting .262-12-68 in 87 regular season games. He's average 33 home runs and 114 RBI over the last 2 seasons and has a lifetime .306 average in 474 big league games. The team became very concerned with Cabrera's attitude and work ethic last season, but that may have had more to do with Jack McKeon running the show. Under Girardi, there have no such complaints about Cabrera thus far this season.

Around the Horn

First Baseman Mike Jacobs was acquired from the Mets as part of the Carlos Delgado deal. The 25-yr old splashed onto the New York scene last season with 11 home runs in 100 big league at-bats. After a slow start in 2006, Jacobs is hitting a respectable .269 with 10 HRs and 39 RBI.

25-year old second baseman Dan Uggla was selected by the Marlins in this past Winter's Rule V draft from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The first year player has made the jump from Double-A to the bigs and has excelled. Though he may miss the Yankees series because of a bad hamstring, Uggla is .313-13-43 in 67 games and has an .899 OPS.

Shortstop Hanley Ramirez had been one of the highest touted prospects for some time as he played in the Boston Red Sox organization. For the Marlins he was the key to the deal that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. The deal probably would have fallen through had Ramirez not been included. The 22-yr old hit better than .300 for the first two months of the season, but has experienced major growing pain in June - with just 9 hits in 72 at-bats thus far. The slump has dropped his average 52 points to .262. The Marlins sparkplug is still tied for 7th in the NL in runs scored and is 4th in stolen bases with 20 in 24 attempts. His slick fielding has been a big reason for the Marlins success as well.

Cabrera rounds out the infield at third - he's played just once in left field this season.

The Outfield

25-yr (is everyone on this team 25?) old rookie center fielder Reggie Abercrombie was picked up on waivers in April, 2005 from Arizona. Abercrombie has some pop and stole 198 bases in 657 minor league games, but is struggling to adapt to big league pitching. He's hitting .223-3-14 in 59 games and has struck out 61 times in just 175 at-bats. He probably will earn a ticket back to the minors before long.

The Marlins have another prized prospect in 22-yr old right fielder Jeremy Hermida. Hermida was one of the players that other team's GMs always ask about and the answer is always no. Hermida earned a big league call up last year after hitting .293-18-63 with 23 steals at Double-A Carolina. He also walked a staggering 111 times (compared to 89 Ks) to compile a gaudy .975 OPS. Hermida missed half of the season with a hip injury, but has still managed an .814 OPS and is hitting .286-2-8 in 105 at-bats (he had a career high 4 hits last night).

Josh Willingham was thought to be the Marlins catcher of the future, but he has played all but 2 of his games in left field. The elderly (he's 27) Willingham has a good mix of power and speed - he hit 43 home runs in his last 557 minor league at-bats and stole 71 bases in 89 minor league career attempts. In 54 games, he's hitting .268-9-35 and has drawn 22 walks.

The Tools of Ignorance

27-yr old catcher Miguel Olivo was once of the prize prospects in the Chicago White Sox organization, but is now with his 5th team in the last 5 years. He's hitting a decent .276-5-22, but has a propensity to strike out and not draw walks. Teams would like to see him on base more because he's got good speed and could be a base stealing threat. Defensively Oliva is very good at throwing out runners, but has struggled in the rest of his game.

Pitching matchups

Tonight - Brian Moehler vs Chien-Ming Wang
Saturday - Shawn Chacon vs Josh Johnson
Sunday - Dontrelle Willis vs Mike Mussina


  1. Randy's suspension is over after Saturday's game. You sure he's not pitching Sunday?

  2. Mussina has already been announced as the pitcher.