Here are a few “Would you believe …” questions about the Florida Marlins, along with how I would have answered them on opening day.
… Josh Johnson tossing no-hitters into the seventh inning in two of his first three starts?
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Believable. Last year was no joke. His off-season conditioning program has him in the best shape of his career. No September-swoon this year.
… the three-through-five starters posting a combined ERA above 6.00 through the first two weeks?
Horrifying. Marlins can’t contend without solid contributions beyond J.J. and Ricky Nolasco.
… Logan Morrison getting on base in every game of the season and leading the team in home runs?
Capable. He has great strike zone recognition, so he’ll get a lot of walks. But Mike Stanton will be tearing the cover off the ball and leading the Marlins in the power categories.
… Hanley Ramirez and Stanton combining to deliver an astonishing .224 BA/1 HR/7 RBI.
Impossible. See Stanton above; Hanley came into camp ready to carry the team on his bulked-up shoulders. He’s ready to return to 2009 Hanley.
… the bullpen owning an MLB-best 1.89 ERA?
Unlikely. But wait until they gel. These guys could be difference-makers.
… the Marlins being in solo second at 8-6 despite being tied for the NL-worst in both runs scored (54) and home runs (eight)?
I’ll take the 8-6 and second place 14 games in, but there’s no way the Fish have only eight home runs – especially if LoMo has half of them. Ain’t happening.
Well, opening-day-me, it’s all true.
For Florida to be 8-6 after round one-of-18 with each of its division rivals – despite all the problems – is a matter of luck, timing, the incredible early-season performance of the bullpen or, as I believe, all of the above. The top of the order started the season horrendously, led by Hanley’s poor productivity – 0 HR, 1 SB and 4 RBI. Chris Coghlan was flirting with the Mendoza line before going on a nine-for-20 tear in the last five games to raise his average to .283. Cogs, however, has been spectacular in center with several highlight reel catches — despite all the pre-season concerns about learning a new position and recovering from knee surgery.
The biggest head-scratcher in the lineup, so far, has been Stanton. First there was the quad injury in the Marlins’ first spring training exhibition, and then the right fielder missed several games after tweaking a hammy during the opening home stand. Stanton, the talk of training camp, has produced little (.194 BA, 1 HR, 3 RBI, .608 OPS) while looking tentative at the plate. Another shocker: The clean-up position has yet to produce a home run and has driven in only six runs.
Morrison, on the other hand, has been all-world for the Fish since opening day, reaching base in all 14 games, which has landed him in the NL’s top-10 in HRs, OPB, SLG, OPS and total bases. He has picked up the slack for Ramirez and Stanton, so one can only wonder how productive the offense will be when it starts firing on all cylinders.
While the bats have been slumbering, the pitching performance so far can be summed up as “J.J. and the Bullpen Seven.” Johnson (2-0, 1.35 ERA, 0.65 WHIP) has added a curve/slurve to his repertoire and has been using it to further screw both left- and right-handed hitters (.122 and .111 BAA, respectively) into the ground. There’s no doubt that teammates expect a win whenever he takes the mound. That confidence is enhanced even further since Florida has the only bullpen in the majors with an ERA (1.89) below 2.00. Middle-reliever Brian Sanches has yet to give up a run in 9.2 innings, set-up man Clay Hensley is five-for-five in his hold opportunities and closer Leo Nunez has converted all five of his save chances.
Nolasco (1-0) hasn’t been as sharp as last year, yet, but he has produced two quality starts in his three outings and has a respectable 4.05 ERA. The area of major concern for the Marlins is the lack of productive innings from Javier Vazquez, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad, who have a combined 1-3 record and 6.18 ERA in eight starts. Vazquez (1-1, 7.43 ERA, 2.25 WHIP) was expected to bring veteran leadership and be an innings-eater, but he has only averaged 4.1 innings in his three starts and opponents are teeing off to the tune of a .345 BAA. Vazquez’s fastball has dropped five-to-seven miles per hour from last season, which accounts for the good-looks batters are getting. While some analysts and scouts are saying this may be the end of the line, Marlins brass insists that an adjustment in Vazquez’s mechanics is all that is needed.
Simply put, Vazquez, Sanchez and Volstad each need to deliver quality starts; Cogs needs to set the table; and Ramirez and Stanton need to drive in runs. As for LoMo, just keep doing what your doing.
Coming off a 5-3 road trip, the Marlins are back in South Florida beginning tonight for three-game sets against Pittsburgh, Colorado and Los Angeles.