I did an interview today with Brant Houghton of FanSided’s Phillies blog, That Balls Outta Here, talking about the Marlins, their chances at the division, and what went right and wrong about this season’s fast start and slow May. Make sure you check out Brant’s blog, it’s some premier Phillies stuff, thoughts and analysis, good things going over at our division rival’s blog. The transcript follows.
1. What was the key to the Marlins fast start?
There were two major factors in that ridiculously fast start by the Fish. One was starting pitching, and the other was the Nationals. We did take two out of three from the Mets at that point as well, on the way to the 11-1 start, but we also swept through an injured Braves team at home and won against Johan Santana off of a missed fly ball and a base hit in the first inning. The remaining games came against the Nationals, a team that has proved itself hapless for much of the season.
The starters, however, were solid early in the season, and helped capture that 11-1 start. By my calculation, Marlins starters netted approximately a 3.40 FIP through the first 11 games, backed by the ridiculously strong performances by Josh Johnson. In three starts, Johnson posted 21 strikeouts, three walks, and just one home run allowed in 21 2/3 innings pitched. Overall the Marlins staff put up a 3.46 FIP, which means the bullpen did just as solid a job as the starters did to win games for the Fish.
The team also benefited from a good deal of luck. Three of the wins in that start were one-run affairs, which generally can side either way over a longer stretch of time, and all three of the games of the last Nationals series involved the Nats blowing ninth inning leads. Always helps to get a bit of luck on your side.
Truthfully, the opposite of what I just mentioned happened. The starters normalized, with the exception of Johnson, and the luck wore off. In the seven-game skid that followed, the Marlins starters posted a far more pedestrian 4.58 FIP and the team lost its only one-run game. From the start of that skid on April 20th to May 24th, the Marlins went 9-20 and the team’s pitching staff bottomed into a 4.77 FIP. It happens when the competition improves and you head out on the road, I guess.
I’m not bailing out the offense either. The club hit an abysmal .234/.312/.362, good for a .298 wOBA, which is horrific for an individual player, let alone a team. This was on the back of slumps from almost every player on the team except Hanley Ramirez. Dan Uggla was hitting below the Mendoza Line, and Jorge Cantu had not been the same since he was hit in the wrist by a pitch in late April. I can’t say the pitching was horrific, as it was likely a bit below league average, but the team’s hitting woes really hurt the squad.
3. Are the Marlins looking to make any moves before the trade deadline to propel the Marlins into the play-offs now that they are in reaching distance of the Phils and Mets?
Well, one piece came off the market on Sunday when Mark DeRosa was dealt on Sunday morning. The team was looking to him perhaps to fill in at either third base or in the outfield, but with him off the market, a bat is likely out of the picture. If the Marlins were to be trying to acquire anyone, it would be some relief arms. The team’s recent injuries to the relief corps have left the pen devastated. The recent Rays series was a good example of that; two of the games which the Rays won came on runs in the eighth or ninth inning to break open a tie. The pen was looking like a disaster before with Matt Lindstrom closing, but now he and our best middle reliever, Kiko Calero, are both out with injury for a substantial amount of time.
The truth of the matter is, however, that while the team will be looking for arms for the pen, they likely won’t find any. I believe everyone is searching for relief help and the Marlins are not likely to match top of the line offers for the few guys available. The Marlins do have pitchers in the minors that could be used in a deal, but for a middle reliever who likely won’t stay long, it might not be worth the effort.
So far the Marlins have been riding Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson to our current record. However, a .500 mark won’t win this division, no matter how flawed and competitive it is, and if the Marlins expect to compete for either the NL East or a Wild Card berth, they are going to have to have the other bats and starters wake up. We are recovering slightly; Dan Uggla has been on a 2008-like tear this month, posting a .258/.371/.494 slash line and a .379 wOBA in June, while Ricky Nolasco has looked dominant in the month, striking out nine and walking just 1.8 per nine innings on his way to a ridiculous 2.17 FIP. If those two guys alone can come back to 2008 form and join Hanley and Johnson at the top of their game, the Marlins can stay in the hunt with average performances from their other players.
The other key perhaps with the team will be replacing Emilio Bonifacio with anyone resembling a major leaguer at third base. He has been atrocious all season, with a .249/.299/.296 line and a putrid .275 wOBA. There have been rumblings of a number of different potential moves to get Bonifacio out of the lineup, but the front office and managerial staff haven’t pulled the trigger, so it remains to be seen.
The Phillies have looked a lot like the Phillies of last year. In fact, you guys have the same sorts of potential problems and benefits that you did a year ago. The strengths of the team last year were the lineup, defense, and Cole Hamels, and nothing has changed there. The remainder of the starting staff has been a problem all throughout: the other shoe finally fell on Jamie Moyer, and it seems like he’s starting to show his ancient age. You guys probably gave up too much for Joe Blanton, though he has been serviceable as of late. And with Brett Myers out for the year and replacement fillers at the back end of your rotation, it will be tough to expect your offense to carry thet team and that defense to back up the staff. The pen has been rocky at times, and now with your injury to Lidge, who knows if that pitching staff can hold up.
I think on offense you’re fine, outside of Jimmy Rollins’ inexplicable struggles. If you can find a starter to help the team, that would be great, but unfortunately the trade market is really down this year, with few targets available. It may be that the Phillies are going to have to ride this one out with what you have, in my opinion. Given the abundance of other problems with the remainder of the teams in the division, I’d think you’d have to be the favorite even with your problems. That offense is absolutely loaded.
Enjoy and again, check out That Balls Outta There. Finally, if you guys haven’t subscribed yet to Marlin Maniac, now is the time, and this is the place! Get on it guys, while the stuff is still hot.