The Florida Marlins have one win in 15 games in June, and everyone in Miami is wondering what the hell is wrong. They oughta: the franchise has put together an impressive group, but right now they look a lot like the Hindenburg — they inspire awe, endless comment and even headlines, but just when the applause is about to begin they inexplicably explode. The most recent explosion, heard all the way to Miami, happened last night, when the Marlins dropped a doubleheader in Philadelphia– after leading in the second game into the ninth with only one out to get. Oh, the humanity.
Most baseball commentators view the Fish as just too good to stay down long, waving away their recent troubles by repeating the kind of babble that the otherwise thoughtful Larry Bowa (the former shortstop is now “an on-air personality”) is known for. “They’ll be fine,” he said on MLB Network on Wednesday night. “Listen, they’re a fundamentally sound team.”
Really? Are they?
All of the notional statistics about the team seem to suggest otherwise: Leo Nunez, their celebrated closer, has blown three of his last four save opportunities, their most important pitcher (Josh Johnson) is on the D.L., Hanley Ramirez (just returned from his own stint on the disabled list) is hitting .206, their bench is thin (they recently called up Jose Lopez in an attempt to provide stability at third), celebrated righty Chris Volstad looks like he belongs in Triple-A, and off-season free agent acquisition Javier Vasquez can’t find the strike zone (and sports an atmospheric 7.09 ERA). The Marlins might be a lot of things — but “fundamentally sound” is probably not one of them.
In every single category — pitching, hitting and fielding — the Marlins are just average. They are tenth in team hitting, twelfth in team pitching, ninth in fielding. Which is only to point out the obvious: in every single category, except for hitting,the Nationals are better, something that baseball pundits would have never guessed when the season started. Of course, Marlins’ fans have seen this before. Back in 2009, the team went on a tear at the beginning of the season before cratering in early June, when they were 1-11. They turned things around thereafter, finishing second in the N.L. Least.
This, somehow, feels different, not least because of the spate of injuries that has swept through the line-up: not only is centerpiece Johnson out until at least mid-July, hurler Edward Mujica is day-to-day, Scott Cousins has a lower back strain, Clay Hensley has a sprained right shoulder, and infielder Donnie Murphy is nursing his right wrist. That’s okay, because injuries happen to everyone, but the Marlins bench is not only thin, their minor league system isn’t producing: their system was ranked 29th of 30 by Baseball America at the outset of the season. This isn’t the Hindenburg, it’s Krakatoa.
Of course, the Marlins are hardly down for the count. Gaby Sanchez is a heck of a hitter, Logan Morrison is young and talented, Anibal Sanchez has been known to spin some gems (he’s 5-0 over his last ten starts), there isn’t a team in the majors who wouldn’t love to have Mike Stanton, and Ricky Nolasco is a steady and productive pitcher. That seems like alot, but without a spark from Ramirez and the kind of clubhouse presence provided by departed skipper Fredi Gonzalez (who transferred his magic to Atlanta), the Marlins free-fall will be hard to stop.