The 2011 Florida Marlins were swagger junkies when the bats were thumping and the pitching was stellar. And why not? J.J. and Anibal flirted with no-nos every time out it seemed, LoMo and Gaby raked it daily, Big Mike hit jaw-dropping moon shots, and the bullpen was untouchable – life for the Marlins was good! At the same time, young teams also should expect the highs to be offset by a few lows along the way – unless you’re the Kansas City Royals, who seem to free-fall hard every season.
The Marlins current seven-game swoon has been punctuated by a four-game sweep at home against the Milwaukee Brewers and an anemic offensive effort in the last two games against the Braves. It appears one of those dreaded lows – one that, ultimately, makes the highs feel so much better – have the Fish squirming.
Nothing like a losing streak to challenge the character of a young team … under the guidance of a first-year manager … who’s without his super-stud pitcher and superstar, ahem, shortstop.
The Marlins remained competitive until last week, despite Josh Johnson and Logan Morrison spending time on the DL, Hanley Ramirez spending time forgetting how to hit, and management spending time playing with its shiny new toy in Little Havana. Heck, until recently, they were ahead of the Braves and challenging the Phillies for first in the uber-competitive NL East. The positive spin in all this? The slide didn’t happen until a third of the way into the season. Not bad for a young team – a team that will be better prepared in the long run by learning from its weaknesses in the short term.
And by better prepared, I mean organizational depth – in the starting rotation, at third base and on the bench. All are very important ingredients for long-term success, yet all are weaknesses on a team that owner Jeffrey Loria expects to win now. Unfortunately, Loria grew impatient with the team’s lack of hitting, going so far as to share with the media that, “hitting’s been a problem for a long time. It needed to be addressed.” And by addressed, he didn’t mean the players needed to be more accountable. No, Loria meant the Marlins’ lack of offense is all the hitting coach’s fault.
Yep. On Wednesday, the Marlins canned John Mallee – a cocksure decision that will have a negligible, if any, impact on the scoreboard. Chances are good Loria had a hissy fit during the run-scoring drought and demanded that someone take the rap, so he chose Mallee. Um, Mr. Loria, isn’t this the very same hitting instructor who, over the past few years, honed the hitting skills of future stars Gaby Sanchez, Mike Stanton, Chris Coghlan and Morrison? The coach these guys loved and credited for their evolution as hitters?
Was Mallee the architect behind Hanley’s horrific hitting? The reason Javier Vazquez’s velocity vanished? Continued poor attendance? The whoopee cushion mysteriously left on Loria’s chair? No, no, no and maybe. Apparently, Loria isn’t one to take a joke or a losing streak too well, so he had to make an example of someone and the axe fell on Mallee.
The buzz around the blogosphere is that Mallee’s termination is a sign of panic. Really, it’s time to panic? Maybe, if I’m the Phillies, I’d start worrying if my four horseman of the apocalypse each lost three straight. But this is the Marlins we’re talking about. The Fish are a young team on the way up, and they’re simply going through growing pains.
Seven-game losing streaks happen, even to the best of teams. They build character and challenge young players to dig deep and learn how to handle adversity – it’s part of the maturation of inexperienced players, teams and managers. Apparently, though, for the Marlins brass, when the going gets tough, you don’t rally the troops and provide teaching moments, you fire the hitting coach.
For new hitting coach Eduardo Perez (fresh from honing his hitting skills in the ESPN studio), I only hope his influence is immediate and all-inclusive. If not, expect Loria to fire someone else – maybe the head groundskeeper for keeping the grass too long?