On Monday hundreds of thousands of people throughout the city of Miami joined together to celebrate the championship won by the Miami Heat. The level of excitement was unparalleled to anything I have seen in South Florida sports history. I expected this unanticipated degree of excitement to be similar to the high expectations for the Marlins entering their beautiful new ballpark just two miles from the home of the Heat’s second Larry O’Brien Trophy.
As Marlins fans, on the heel of a nearly 200 million dollar spending spree by ownership, we expected Miami to not only contend for the playoffs, but to challenge for a championship. A growing revenue stream was developed to acquire all-star caliber talent. The Front Office has delivered on this aspect and through the opening of the ballpark the franchise has attempted to re-energize interest in baseball in the Miami market. Yet in the shadows of the Heat’s championship run, these plans have essentially struggled to meet lofty expectations. Following an outstanding May which brought the club to a first place tie, the Marlins have experienced yet another June swoon while facing the most rigorous section of the schedule. The team currently finds itself in last place in the National League East, the same position it found itself in last year in the final year at Sun Life Stadium. At first following the move south it was clear that the time for developing sustained success was imminent and that the era of low revenue and poor attendance had come to an end. However, a historically awful June rivaling that of 2011 has severely crippled Miami’s chances to contend for the playoffs.
There are several reasons for the Marlins failure to meet expectations. Among them is the loss of Emilio Bonifacio due to injury. Bonifacio served as the team’s primary catalyst and energy producer within the clubhouse. His absence has allowed opponents the luxury of only worrying about Jose Reyes as the Marlins key speed threat, as well as left a revolving door of replacement outfielders. With Bonifacio’s absence on the bases, the heart of the order has had few opportunities to drive in runs. As such, it is difficult to get an early lead within ballgames. Thus, the Marlins are at a tentative disadvantage.
Furthermore, from top to bottom the starting rotation could not be excellent for such an extended period of time. Several starters would be expected to come back to earth. The recent struggles of Carlos Zambrano and Ricky Nolasco are evidence of this. When the rotation is not as effective, extra work and pressure is placed on the bullpen, thus making it less efficient overall.
Over the course of the last several years, the Marlins organization has focused their efforts into preparing for the 2012 campaign in anticipation of opening the new ballpark with a playoff contending team. It is possible that the high demand placed by ownership upon young developing starters such as Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez to produce culminated in intense pressure and thus yielded an overall distraction. This high pressure to thrive may have overwhelmed these relatively young, developing hitters. As such, the ballpark despite providing high energy on a nightly basis has contributed to a distraction culminating in whole scale underperformance.
It is possible that Miami’s struggles are primarily due to facing and being outplayed by superior competition. The Marlins faced a difficult interleague schedule against the American League East and have faced National League contenders in St. Louis and Atlanta. Perhaps facing such a strenuous schedule over a short period of time has put excess pressure on players to perform. AL East teams such as Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay have proved to be crafty with respect to offense, being able to work pitchers, force them out of the game early, and force the bullpen to work an excess number of innings. The Marlins never caught a break with respect to the June schedule. As such, this is likely to be a contributing factor to the team’s struggles.
With this being said, some of these issues will correct themselves. On the other hand, issues with respect to poor offensive performance can be blamed on a lack of adjustments taken by players and coaches, as well as excess pressure placed by ownership and the player development staff. Not one player, coach or group is responsible for this June Swoon. It is clearly a collective struggle that has occurred within the franchise. As such, for a championship level of excitement to captivate baseball fans in Miami, the Marlins should look two miles east for inspiration, a model of stability and overall sense of direction from Mr. Larry O’Brien.