Thursday, April 29, 2010

Marlins Face Tougher Division?

April 29, 2010

As of this writing, the Florida Marlins are fourth in the N.L. East behind the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals. Only 22 games into the season, the current standings may not foreshadow the final position of each team as there is ample time for standings to fluctuate and teams to improve or regress. Nevertheless, there are things to be noted based on the present state of the Marlins' division.

We list the current standings and weigh in on the potential future of each team and the division as a whole. 

1. New York Mets (13-9)

Believe it or not, the Mets are currently atop the division ahead of the favored Phillies. Perhaps the talent that New York boasts on paper is beginning to show up on the field, unlike previous seasons. However, we must consider the possibility that this may not last for long. With the Mets' injury plagued past and history of inconsistency, the underachieving Mets we have known to accept may return as the season goes on.

Focusing on their present state, the Mets have fared well in the early season with a steady flow of offensive production and decent pitching from starters and relievers. New York's first two starters, Johan Santana and Mark Pelfrey have three and for wins, respectively. SP John Maine may be struggling with a 7.15 ERA, but has been proceeded by respectable performances from Jon Niese (3.68 ERA) and Oliver Perez (4.35 ERA). Not to mention, Francisco Rodriguez (AKA "K-Rod") has not disappointed in his 10.2 innings pitched, posting a 0.84 ERA and three saves in four opportunities.

And while the batting lineup does not have anyone with a post-.300 batting average (excluding recent called-up 1B Ike Davis), the Mets have found ways to drive in runs collectively. The team has averaged over four runs a game to open the season, which is commendable given their decent pitching support. Time will determine their success as true contenders or just pretenders.

2. Philadelphia Phillies (12-9)

The N.L. Champions enter 2010 as favorites to reach the World Series once again with newly-acquired Roy Halladay at the helm of their pitching staff, surrounded by postseason-caliber teammates. Only one game behind the surging Mets, Philly is sticking close to the top, and many expect them to be kings of the hill when it's all said and done.

The offense has done a solid job as expected, but has toned down in recent games. The team has produced over five runs a night with seven games of eight runs or more in just 21 games. Three starters currently hold over .300 batting averages in 3B Placido Polanco, OF Jason Werth and SS Jimmy Rollins. Basically, you can expect this team to put up runs. On a side note, the Marlins were able to suppress Philadelphia's high octane offense in their recent series, holding them to one run in the final two games of the series after a series-opening eight run outburst.

Surprisingly enough, the troubles faced by the Phillies are coming from the starting rotation. Outside of Halladay, three starters hold an ERA above five. Halladay (four wins) himself has almost as many wins as the rest of the rotation combined (five wins). Relief pitching has done a decent job, but have done so underneath the burden of excessive runs by their starting predecessors.Expect the Phillies to balance their pitching woes out by the end of the season. There is no doubt this is a playoff-worthy team. Onlye an unfortunate sequence of events can hold back this team from the postseason.

3. Washington Nationals (12-10)

That's right. The Nationals are not the fifth team in the N.L. East. Just one game behind the division lead, the Nats have surprised the league thus far. A dosage of decent offense and steady pitching has helped Washington stay in divisional discussions. Typically, we would find them sitting at the very bottom of the bracket increasing their distance from the pack by the day. Perhaps those are not the same Nationals we see today.

This team already has two three-game winners on their starting rotation in Livan Hernandez and Tyler Clippard, both of which have ERAs of 0.87 and 0.54, respectively. The other three starters are struggling as they each have ERAs well above five, combining for three total wins amongst themselves. Their bullpen is still suspect, but contributions from key relievers like Matt Capps have kept them afloat.

The team averages just over four runs per game and have two starters batting above .300, C Ivan Rodriguez (.400) and 3B Ryan Zimmerman (.326). In their lineup, four batters have double-digit RBIs already, hinting at their collective approach on offense. What will be interesting to see if this team can hold up their end on offense until pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg joins the team. Strasburg's addition could add more win opportunities as long as the bats show up to play during his starts. Nevertheless, his youth may play a rule in his early success or lack thereof. 

4. Florida Marlins (11-11) 

Standing at an even 11-11 record, the Marlins have clearly had an average start to the season. A mixture of consistent batting and volatile pitching has been the story of the season to this point. Defensive errors still trouble the Marlins as they are one of the league leaders in fielding errors. But the team has definitely shown signs of improvements throughout the first few weeks, some improvements coming quicker than others.

For instance, SP Josh Johnson has buckled down in his last three starts. JJ began the season giving up seven runs in his first two games, but only allowed four runs in the next three starts. Beyond that, Johnson has struck out double-digit batters in two of his last three starts. Essentially, the Marlins are getting what they paid for in an Ace. And for the most part, the rest of the rotation has done a solid job as well with SP Ricky Nolasco (3.03 ERA) and SP Anibal Sanchez (4.32) beginning to prove their worth. Unfortunately, the bullpen has ruined quite a few games after decent showings by the starters. Manager Freddi Gonzalez is still struggling to find a dependable group for relief situations. 

The batting has had its usual combination of streaky hitters, with 3B Jorge Cantu starting the season hot and cooling down in recent games. 2B Dan Uggla has also connected at the plate early on, but no starter currently holds a post-.300 batting average. Nonetheless, Hanley Ramirez, the reigning N.L. Batting Champion, still has not shown up to play at full potential. The consensus is that Florida will not have to worry about the offense once they get in their groove. It's the pitching that will decide the Marlins chances at the playoffs, but there is still time to work the kinks out as the season progresses.

5. Atlanta Braves (8-13) 

Do not be fooled by the Braves' current position. It's difficult to believe that this team will end at the bottom of the barrel come season's end. The mixture of solid starting pitchers, worthy hitters and a future Hall-of-Fame manager make this team a threat. Beyond that, the rise of Jason Heyward adds more potential to the Braves lineup as he develops. But do not discount to possibility of Atlanta being this season's Mets. In general, the offense has been quiet and the pitching has not delivered consistently thus far. Expectations may just be too high for the Braves.

SP Derek Lowe and SP Tim Hudson have done a relatively decent job at setting the tone for the pitching rotation, but their followers have not been able to keep the pace (except for SP Tommy Hanson). Relief pitching has contributed with solid efforts, but have received no production from the offense to result in victories.

The lineup is severely struggling with two starters below the .200 mark and a majority of the rest floating around the mid-.200s. Only 2B Martin Prado has a stellar batting average (.361). Heyward leads the team in RBIs (16), but is batting .224 in 67 AB. One can expect the offense to pick things up, but the ceiling may be lower than expected for this group. The Braves could either be a serious threat or a major flop at the end of it all.


The current standings could be a disguise of the real state of the division, but could also be a forecast of the future. The Marlins, if they develop their pitching staff and reduce their defensive errors, can at least make a push at the division. Realistic predictions would place Florida as a Wild Card contender if anything, but the constantly underestimated Marlins seem to always surprise the doubters. 

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