The Week Ahead: Keep an eye on those Marlins

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robertson_nate_marlins.jpgThe Florida Marlins are full of potential. The question has always been whether or not they can realize that potential before their young stars get too expensive and are sold off to their richer competitors.

But this weekend, the promising young Fish showed that they just might realize their potential this season after taking two of three from the two-time defending NL champion Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

The Marlins have now won five straight series at Philadelphia, which is remarkable enough.

Perhaps even more remarkable is how they did it this weekend, losing the series opener on Friday to Roy Halladay before taking the next two with dominating pitching performances by Ricky Nolasco and Nate Robertson (pictured).

Nolasco pitched a five-hitter on Saturday, striking out four and allowing just one run. Then Robertson combined with two relievers for a shutout on Sunday. That’s one run in 18 innings from the Phillies, a team that entered Saturday’s action leading baseball in batting average, runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.

The Marlins certainly caught the attention of the Phillies:

“I think the team that you saw out here today is young, and the last two years they started to get a lot of confidence and experience,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “If they’re pitching holds up, they definitely can be a threat.”

The Marlins enter the week with an 8-5 record, 1/2-game behind the Phillies. They continue their nine-game road trip this week with three games at Houston and three more at Colorado. Are they for real? Can the young pitchers hold up? Will the defense carry it’s weight? Can they stay healthy? Should be fun to find out.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Yankees at A’s, April 20-22:
For those of you waiting for the 9-5 A’s to go away and slip down into the standings where you think they belong, this could be your big chance.

Rangers at Red Sox, April 20-22: The Red Sox will be looking to end their skid against the Rangers, a team that has yet to live up to its preseason hype.

Phillies at Braves, April 20-22: Make sure you tune in on Wednesday to see what Jason Heyward can do – if anything – against Roy Halladay.

Cubs at Brewers, April 23-25: Brewers fans get annoyed when their ballpark is filled up with Cubs fans. They will be even more annoyed if Alfonso Soriano manages to hold onto any fly balls hit his direction.

Cardinals at Giants, April 23-25: Both teams are off to good starts at 8-4. Both feature a potent 1-2 punch atop their rotations. Only one of them has Albert Pujols, however.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Cubs at Mets (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Phillies at Braves (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Yankees at Angels (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mariners at White Sox (FOX)
Sunday, 2:10 p.m.: Cubs at Brewers (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Braves at Mets (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

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In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.