After winning the World Series in 2003, the Miami Marlins (then Florida Marlins, but I’ll use the current name) missed the playoffs in 2004. It was an understandable result due to the young core and with veteran leader Ivan Rodriguez leaving via free agency. Turning the page over to 2005 however, the Fish were going all-in with an improved team. The result was an 83-79 record and a third place finish in the NL East, 7 games out of first. So what went wrong that fateful season?
The Miami Marlins were only a year removed from winning the World Series.
The Miami Marlins (again Florida Marlins at the time) received an expected contribution from big pre-season acquisition 1B Carlos Delgado, who hit .301/.399/.582 with 33 HR and 115 RBI. The only help he received however was from LF Miguel Cabrera, who hit .323/.385/.561 with 33 HR and 116 RBI. A big blow was a surprising down year from 3B Mike Lowell, who went from hitting .295/.365/.505 with 27 HR and 85 RBI in 2004 to hitting .236/.298/.360 with 8 HR and 58 RBI.
The Miami Marlins had other disappointments coming from the lineup…CF Juan Pierre hit .326/.374/.407 in 2004, but slumped to .276/.326/.354 in 2005. Pierre was supposed to set the table by batting lead-off, but his below average on-base percentage really hurt the team in 2005. The lack of power bats alongside Cabrera and Delgado and the lack of solid lead-off production led to the team delivering a below average 4.43 runs per game.
What about the pitching? Well there was this memorable season… Dontrelle Willis was a legit ace producing a 2.63 ERA/2.99 FIP and giving the Fish 22 wins in 236.1 innings. Unfortunately he didn’t win the Cy Young despite him rightfully deserving that honor. A.J. Burnett was the next starting pitcher in innings pitched, producing a 3.44 ERA/3.11 FIP in 209.0 IP, though with only a 12-12 W-L record.
Josh Beckett, one of the most important players during the 2003 championship run, delivered a 3.38 ERA/3.27 FIP in 178.2 innings with a 15-8 W-L record. The trio of Beckett, Burnett and Willis did very well, but had no significant support from the rest of the rotation or the shaky bullpen, though closer Todd Jones did save 40 games with a 2.10 ERA. Al Leiter’s return to Miami was a disappointment as well, as he gave us 80 innings of 6.64 ERA/5.56 FIP ball.
Looking at the games, a 6 game losing streak in September was a killer for the Miami Marlins. This included getting swept in a three game series by Atlanta from the 24’th to 26’th, and losing 2 out of 3 against the New York Mets from the 18’th to the 21’st. Add a little bad luck with a 20-23 record in one-run games throughout the entire season and you can see why The Fish missed the playoffs.
Trades for more bats, better luck in one-run games and doing better in September could’ve made up the difference. None of that happened of course, and the Miami Marlins had to watch from the sidelines as the playoffs began. I strongly believe that an improved lineup not only would have sent The Fish to the playoffs but perhaps even towards a pennant, as that trio at the top of the rotation and Cabrera/Delgado as a 1-2 punchy in the lineup were as good as any other team and better than most.