Springtime storylines: Is this the year the Marlins finally break the mold?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season. Next up: The ever-pesky Florida Marlins.

The Big Question: Is this the year the Marlins finally break the mold?

We’ve come to expect a particular narrative from the Marlins over the past few seasons. While owner Jeffrey Loria doesn’t spend much on player payroll, we can usually count on the Marlins to be a pesky bunch that will hang around just long enough so that they look like contenders around the trade deadline. However, they ultimately fall short down the stretch.

That’s essentially what we saw from them again last season, as Edwin Rodriguez took over for Fredi Gonzalez in June and led the Marlins to a 46-46 record the rest of the way. The most positive development from an on-the-field perspective was that Mike Stanton flashed elite power potential as a 20-year-old and Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison emerged as potential regulars moving forward.

The Marlins engaged in contract talks with the arbitration-eligible Dan Uggla following the season, but ultimately swapped him to the Braves for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn after he rejected a four-year, $48 million extension. It was a disappointing return for the Fish, especially considering that they traded him to a division rival.

The hope is that Stanton can provide the thump in the middle of the order for the long haul – and while he certainly appears capable of doing just that — I have some concerns about their offense this season, especially if they give 21-year-old Matt Dominguez the opportunity to sink or swim at third base. After losing one of the most reliable power hitters in the game, the Marlins are now banking on productivity from a number of young and inexperienced players.

So what else is going on?

  • Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez already give the Marlins a pretty good chance to win, so if Javier Vazquez rebounds, the starting rotation could be a real strength. It’s fair to expect some improvement with the move back to the National League — and away from Yankee Stadium — but Vazquez is unlikely make a major impact unless he consistently throws in the low-90s again. Back end starter? Fine. But let’s not get carried away just yet.
  • The Marlins plan — at least at the moment — to use Chris Coghlan in center field. The decision is bad enough since advanced metrics haven’t been kind to him in left field, but Coghlan is also coming back from knee surgery and is currently dealing with shoulder soreness. The alternatives aren’t great (Emilio Bonifacio, DeWayne Wise, Scott Cousins), but Coghlan could be a real adventure out there. If Dominguez struggles or begins the year in the minors, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coghlan get a look at second base or third eventually.
  • Marlins relievers led the National League in walks last season and finished ninth in ERA, so they made it a priority to revamp their bullpen during the winter. Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley, Brian Sanches and Burke Badenhop remain, but they added Dunn in the Uggla trade, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica in the Cameron Maybin deal and Randy Choate as a free agent. Bullpens can be pretty fickle from year-to-year, but they should be better, at least on paper.
  • Dominguez could open the year on the major league roster, but there’s not much more help on the way. Now that Sanchez, Stanton and Morrison have graduated from the minors, the Marlins have one of the weakest farm systems in the game. If they’re going to win, they’re going to have to do it with what they currently have.

So how are they gonna do?

While I expect them to play better than .500 ball this year, I just don’t see them finishing ahead of the Braves or Phillies. Sure, Hanley will be Hanley and there will likely be some progression from Morrison and Stanton, but I’m not crazy about their third base situation and I’m betting against a repeat from new catcher John Buck.

So yes, another third place finish it is. On the bright side, the Marlins have a pretty exciting cast of young players under team control for the opening of their new stadium next season.

Bumgarner: dirt bike adventure was “definitely not the most responsible decision”

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Madison Bumgarner talked to the press yesterday about his dirt bike injury and its fallout.

While there is some speculation that the Giants may change their approach to Bumgarner’s contract situation at some point as a result of all of this, yesterday Bumgarner noted that the organization has been supportive as have his teammates. He said he apologized to them as well for an act he characterized as “definitely not the most responsible decision.”

As for the wreck itself, Bumgarner was a bit embarrassed to say that it wasn’t the result of doing anything cool or spectacular on the bike. Sounds like he probably just laid the thing down. Guess it makes no real difference given that he’s injured either way, but you’d hope to at least get a cool story out of it. Alas.

Here’s video of him talking to the press. The best and most accurate takeaway from it: when he says “it sucks.” Yep.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 14, Pirates 3: The Chicago Bears won only one game by as big a margin all last season as the Cubs won by here. Jason Heyward hit his third home run in four days and drove in four runs overall. He and his rebuilt swing are batting .294/.342/.456 with three homers and 16 RBI in 18 games.

White Sox 12, Royals 1: Both Chicago teams scored a couple of touchdowns last night. The White Sox just need a better placekicker for the PATs. DH Matt Davidson homered, doubled and drove in four. Davidson leads the White Sox in home runs with four and is tied for the team lead with 14 RBI. He’s not even an everyday player.

Orioles 6, Rays 3: Baltimore was down 3-1 on a crappy night, weather-wise, at Camden Yards. Then Hyun Soo Kim and Jonathan Schoop hit homers in the sixth followed by an Adam Jones two-run homer in the seventh too chase Chris Archer. Archer after the game:

“There was a few pitches I wish I could have back,” Archer said. “That’s baseball. Going into my next start, I plan on executing at a higher level. Even if it is just three or four pitches I have to execute, it has to be done.”

I would like to see one of those graphs which track how often words are used but only for major league pitchers’ use of the word “execute.” I bet it’s almost at zero until about 2000-03 or so, and then it shoots way the hell up. Probably all traceable to some pitching coach who decided to make himself sound more scientific. Everyone’s “executing” pitches these days. Very few guys are “throwing” them.

Rockies 8, Nationals 4: The Nats’ seven-game winning streak comes to an end. The Rockies snapped it by coming from behind. They were down 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth when Mark Reynolds hit a two-run homer to bring them close. The following inning Charlie Blackmon hit a two-run shot of his own to give Colorado a lead they would not relinquish. Blackmon said the pitch was in his “where I hit balls far” zone. See, isn’t that way more evocative than “executing” pitches? Bring more vernacular to the discourse, pitchers. It plays way, way better than this faux precision jazz.

Brewers 11, Reds 7: Eric Thames continues his early season rampage. Two more homers here, a solo shot in the first and a two-run blast in the second. The second one gave Milwaukee a five-run lead. Cincinnati would threaten for a brief period but the Brewers put up ten runs on Amir Garrett before the end of the fourth inning and that’s just too dang much to overcome. Had a conversation with a big Reds fan yesterday who was cautiously optimistic about his team’s early season play and asked me if it was sustainable. I told him “the pitching will be exposed soon.” I didn’t realize how soon it’d be.

Twins 3, Rangers 2: One hit — a three-run double from Brian Dozier in the fifth — was all Minnesota would get and all they would need. The hit was preceded by Martin Perez walking the bases loaded. The batters: the 6, 8 and 9 hitters. That’s . . . bad.

Diamondbacks 7, Padres 6: Zack Greinke allowed one run over six and struck out 11. He’s had one clunker on the year — five runs allowed to the Dodgers on April 14 — but otherwise Greinke has been the Greinke of old this season: a 2.93 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and 31 strikeouts to six walks in 30.2 innings.

Angels 2, Blue Jays 1: Jesse Chavez tossed six innings of one-run, four-hit ball. The Blue Jays have scored four runs or less in 14 of their 18 games this season. That’s not good. The Angels’ runs came from a Mike Trout triple followed by an Albert Pujols single in the fourth and Cameron Maybin scoring on a fielder’s choice with a diving slide to beat the throw to the plate in the fifth.

Giants 2, Dodgers 1: Matt Cain was excellent, tossing six shutout innings, but Hyun-Jin Ryu was almost as good, allowing only one run over six. Ultimately bad base running dooms Los Angeles. Chris Taylor was thrown out stealing in the eighth inning with Corey Seager at the plate. Then Justin Turner was picked off of second to end the game.