When the Florida Marlins play the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field tonight, it will be only the second time in the team’s 19-year history it has faced a former manager in the regular season.
After Joe Girardi’s lone season in South Florida in 2008, he was hired by the Yankees in 2009 and faced the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium for a three-game series. After losing the first game, Florida swept the final two to win the inter-league match-up 2-1. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who had a falling out with Girardi during the 2008 campaign, must have secretly enjoyed defeating his former manager. Girardi, however, got the last laugh by leading the Yankees to a World Series championship later that season, something Loria surely would have preferred over a meaningless middle-of-the-season series win.
Which makes tonight’s game against former manager Fredi Gonzalez even more important: It’s not a meaningless series. It’s the first of 18 games against Gonzalez and playoff-favorite Atlanta. And if the Marlins have their sights on the post-season, too, they must improve on last season’s 7-11 record against the Braves.
An added incentive for the Marlins is playing against former teammate Dan Uggla, who was traded after last season to the Braves when contract negotiations broke down. And while players and coaches from both teams downplay the significance of the match-up of “formers,” the goal of beating the other team is amplified due to what’s at stake: finishing ahead of each other in the standings.
The Marlins have a slight advantage heading into the three-game set thanks to a recent slump by the Braves. After jumping out to a 3-1 record, Atlanta has since gone 1-5, which included dropping two of three at home to the Phillies over the weekend. The Braves potent offense has scored an NL-low 32 runs and only 13 in their last seven games to go along with an NL third-worst .229 batting average. Uggla, acquired for his power, has struggled most with a .158 average and 2 RBI on two solo homers.
The Marlins bats, however, haven’t been tearing up opposing pitching – especially at the top of the order. Lead-off hitter Chris Coghlan is batting .200, followed by former Brave Omar Infante at .270 and Hanley Ramirez at a woeful .207. Ramirez is listed as day-to-day after a hard slide by Houston’s Bill Hall Friday night left a contusion on Ramirez’s shin and forced him to miss the final two games of the series with the Astros.
Given quiet bats and the quality pitching on both teams, this should be a low-scoring series. Chris Volstad (0-0) faces Tommy Hanson (0-2) in the opener, followed by Wednesday’s marquis match-up between Josh Johnson (1-0) and Tim Hudson (2-0), and Thursday’s finale with Ricky Nolasco (1-0) up against Brandon Beachy (0-1).