Faith, Hope and the Plight of the Miami Marlins Fan.
Sports fandom is a weird thing, it is like religious faith, really liking a band and a love affair all at once. Sports fans sacrifice so much of their time, sanity, emotion and even money in order to support a team. Marlins fans have been jerked around so much since the fire sale in 1997 that it has hard for us to still believe. The winter of 2011-2012 was a time of hope and expectation for people in South Florida, a new stadium, an ownership apparently recommitted to winning – but we all know how that went – nowhere. The players apparently didn’t want to play for Ozzie Guillen, Samson and Loria meddled, the Showtime cameras captured it all. The experiment failed and so spectacularly that Giancarlo Stanton and Ricky Nolasco were the two players to not be jettisoned in favor of “rebuilding” or “restructuring.” But enough ink, both virtual and actual has been spilled talking about what Jeffrey Loria has done to Marlins fans, the city of Miami and all other concerned parties. I want to talk about something more topical, a reflection of what has happened on the field in the past week or ten days, the apparent collapse of the Marlins on the field.
The Marlins offense in particular, since scoring 14 runs in Philadelphia against Roy Halladay and the Phillies as his shoulder disintegrated have scored 21 runs in the past 10 games and lost 9 of 10 games. This stretch has been bad even compared to what the Marlins had done in April when they were struggling mightily to score runs. The Marlins inability to score makes me lose faith that they could ever improve. But most importantly inability to score runs created undue pressure on the pitching and defense. Since May 4th until last night’s game Marlins starters have had a 4.70 ERA in only 67 IP at nearly 5 2/3 IP per start. That might just be a sign of Kevin Slowey, Alex Sanabia and Wade LeBlanc “regressing to the mean.” On the other hand, the counting defensive stats, Errors and Fielding Percentage are not kind to the Marlins, while advanced defensive metrics are more forgiving; the Marlins are middle of the pack in terms of defensive runs saved.
I am not here to give a panacea or to spout cliches like, things are always darkest before the dawn, but June 1st is the day that all Marlins fans who have lost faith need to keep their hope alive. In my previous article, I made a sample write up of the Marlins lineup once Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison and possibly Christian Yelich will be in Marlins uniforms. I believe in Adeiny Hechavarria as a 2-hole-hitter and Justin Ruggiano hitting fifth. What is harder to believe is Dietrich and Ozuna hitting 3 and 4, this is the Major Leagues not AA. As admirably as we can expect young players like Dietrich, Ozuna, Fernandez and Yelich to perform, it is almost masochistic to put the onus of run creation and production on the shoulders of a 23 and a 22 year old respectively. Jose Fernandez on the pitching side seems to be up to the challenge, but pitching is an individual pursuit unlike offense.
I chose to speak of hope for one reason, it is the expectation of future change and hopefully improvement. Things couldn’t get much worse that is for sure but I hope that they could and will get better as May turns into June. As Greg Dobbs returns to the bench, Placido Polanco and Derek Dietrich go the back half of the lineup and Juan Pierre is replaced by Christian Yelich, depth will return and the Marlins will look like a Major league team again. What benefits them is time.
The Marlins are benefiting from one thing time, time is their friend. 11-31 is a horrible record to see on the standings but it is also not insurmountable. Not to make the playoffs or finish at above .500 but not lose 100 games or more games than the Houston Astros. I have hope for the future, the short term future. In a couple weeks, the Marlins will improve and the thoughts of these lean days in the middle of May will fade into memory and they will be watchable again.
I want to conclude by saying this this, it is easy to blame Loria and the front office for everything, I do it too. But even if one loses faith and believes that things can only get worse. One must keep hope for the future alive and think that 2013 is not the end of the world and that as we move into the future keep hope alive and think that prospects can turn into stars often sooner than we expect.