The 2008 Marlins- The “Ace” That Couldn’t Win Even If He Could, And Couldn’t
Thirteen starts into Dontrelle Willis’ big-league career, the D-train had punched his ticket to the 2003 All-Star Game. Miguel Cabrera had hit three home runs, including a game-winner in his very first game. Both would go on to lead the Marlins to their second world championship in their rookie years.
Thirteen starts into his big league career, Andrew Miller had posted a record of 5-5 and a 5.63 ERA. Still touted as a high-value prospect though, the jewel coming over in “The Trade” that sent the two faces of the franchise to the Tigers for a boatload of prospects, the bar was set pretty high.
Seldom would he ever be in danger of showing signs he could clear that bar.
At season’s start though, Miller was greeted with that bizarre mix of equal parts cynicism and high expectation that have greeted many a Marlins roster move during the Jeffrey Loria era. Performing well wouldn’t cut it- he had to be great, and great wasn’t expected.
The Opening Day start went to Mark Hendrickson, a decision based much more on MLB tenure than a successful track record. His best ERA mark in the past five seasons was 4.21, and the six earned runs he surrendered in the opener did nothing to convince fans a pitching mechanics epiphany was forthcoming.
As for the rest of the rotation…it was an ugly story. Hendrickson would finish with a 5.45 ERA, and Miller was worse.
Only one of the Marlins top four finishers in games started would post an ERA under 4.00.
Fans finding themselves confused over how this could have been possible given the fact that franchise stalwarts like Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez were all still with the team are blessed with not having to remember the horror show that was the lost season of 2007.
The above trio, along with Dontrelle and Scott Olsen, were the envy of the league in 2006 when all five members of the starting rotation won 10 or more games. But Johnson, Nolasco, and Sanchez all suffered season-ending injuries in their sophomore seasons and did so early. Only Nolasco would be healthy enough to make the 2008 Opening Day Roster, with Johnson and Sanchez not expected back until midseason.
Olsen came into 2008 after an abysmal year where he was lucky to keep his ERA under 6.00, Willis was off to Detroit, and Nolasco was anything but a household name yet. Of that celebrated 2006 staff, he had easily performed the worst of the five, hitting his double-digit wins with a .500 record and 4.82 ERA. So precious few had the expectation he was about to become a rotation cornerstone.
But if you have four infielders club 25 HRs or more, it turns out pitching doesn’t matter very much. The 2008 team was probably as close as the Marlins have come to making the playoffs since winning the 2003 title, and with Johnson and Sanchez returning as expected, the rotation improved significantly as the season progressed.