Coming off the crippling three-game sweep at the hands of the Washington Nationals, the Marlins really needed to win two out of three games to remain squarely in the hunt. I’m not a big believer of the “critical series,” but if there was ever a series that I would circle, given what I knew about the Marlins’ season to date, I would have circled this three-game set against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Surprisingly, the Marlins came through in a big way, delivering a sweep of the defending World Series champs in a convincing fashion. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting observations.
Chris Coghlan is smoking hot right now.
You might have heard that Chris Coghlan just set the Marlins record for most consecutive multi-hit games. Over the road trip, Coghlan has been on an absolute tear, going through Washington’s and Philadelphia’s pitching staffs to a tune of 15 hits in 31 PA, four of those hits of the extra-base variety, including a solo shot against Phillies ace Cole Hamels to start off the series on the right foot. Just in the Phillies series he was 8-for-14 with a double and a home run.
Of course, the Maniac doesn’t want you to get excited about small sample sizes. Just 31 PA isn’t enough to tell you that Coghlan is trending up. However, it is encouraging to see Coghlan’s power numbers increase. In the first half of the season, encompassing 233 PA, Coghlan hit just 12 extra base hits (10 doubles, two home runs). In just 84 PA in the second half of the season, he’s already managed 10 extra base hits, including four home runs. This has helped Coghlan bring up his sub-.100 ISO up to .130 for the season. Such variations are bound to occur during a player’s season, but here at Marlin Maniac, we’re happy to see Coghlan hitting so well right now, because the offense desperately needs that sort of production.
If only the team could figure out that he isn’t a left fielder. His -6.2 UZR currently, combined with the corner outfield position adjustment, is killing whatever offensive value he’s bringing to the table. Is there anyone available to move out of the infield? Of course not, not at the moment. But unless Coghlan continues to hit at the .285/.363/.413 level that he’s at right now thanks to that hot streak, his inability to play left field will kill any of his value this season.
Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are the best 1-2 punch in the National League
Actually, that’s still a tough statement to make, given that anybody plus San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum would hard to beat. However, I’d venture to say that the Marlins right now have the best duo in the NL. Check out a comparison of the two duo’s mentioned here:
SF’s Lincecum and Matt Cain: 2.67 and 4.32 xFIP respectively
Florida’s Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco: 3.38 and 3.32 respectively
When correcting for HR/FB%, given that pitchers do not have strong control over their home run rates, our pair of Johnson and Nolasco can stand up to even the best pitcher in baseball and his second-in-command. Nolasco and JJ stand fifth and sixth respectively in the National League in xFIP, and they don’t fair too much better/worse in FIP and tRA either, with Johnson typically at the top of the list and Nolasco somewhere in the low to high teens.
It will be interesting to see how the Marlins handle both JJ and Nolasco as August reaches a close and we move into September with a clear picture of where the team is in the playoff hunt. Management has already mentioned that if the team remains in contention, they will use all of their available arms. However, if the team falls out of contention this month, there’s a good chance JJ and possibly Ricky will lose starts to preserve their arms for the long term. Based on JJ’s performances prior to yesterday’s game (a typical sharp JJ outing, six innings, six strikeouts, one walk, seven groundballs allowed), he’s appeared to be tiring under the hot Florida sun. As for Ricky, he’s been on fire and dominant after a two-start stretch where he struggled. In his last four starts, Ricky has pitched 27 innings and struck out 30 batters while walking only seven. These two starters may be the key to us making the playoffs.
The bullpen held strong.
After witnessing a Nationals series in which the bullpen blew all three games in ugly fashion, it was good to see the pen bounce back and deliver a strong performance over the weekend. Even after Sean West’s horrid start on Saturday night, the pen still held up, striking out two and walking one in five innings of relief. All season long the Marlins have supposedly been living through their starting pitching, but it has really been the relievers who have held up games for the Fish. tRA has the Marlins pen currently at 1.9 pitching runs above average, holding up much of the value that many of the Fish’s starters have thrown away outside of JJ and Nolasco.
Of particular interest beyond the play of known stalwarts Kiko Calero and Dan Meyer, two perfect examples of why teams shouldn’t spend a lot of money on their bullpen parts, is the play of minor league reliever Brian Sanches. Sanches has been an excellent piece of the bullpen, covering both short and, when necessary, long relief. So far, Sanches has racked up a 3.55 FIP, mostly on the back of a miniscule home run rate. Normalized by xFIP, he yields a more expected 4.28 FIP. He’s shown strikeout and walk rates akin to those he put up in limited innings last season with the Nationals, but so far this season he has pitched far more than he has in years past, so it will be interesting to see where his regression takes him, if he even ends up pitching long enough to suffer through some regression.