Ryan Zimmerman hit his ninth home run of the season and Jesus Flores knocked in two to back the four hit, six inning pitching of Jordan Zimmermann — leading the Nationals to a 5-1 victory over the Marlins in Miami. It was the Nationals 50th win of the 2012 campaign.
In fact, the game was not nearly as close as the score indicates — and Miami, once viewed as a contender for the N.L. East title, continues to struggle. Marlins’ fireballer, the formidable Josh Johnson, gave up eleven hits and was only able to pitch into the 6th inning. By then, the game was out of reach.
“I don’t think he was very sharp at all,” manager Ozzie Guillen said of Johnson, who fell to 5-6 on the season. “He wasn’t throwing the ball where he wanted to. He was a little bit off today, a little bit off.” The same could not be said of Zimmermann, who was dominating. Zimmermann threw 87 pitches, 61 of them for strikes — and struck out six. His 2.48 ERA ranks him fifth in the National League.
Two of the Nationals runs came in the sixth, when Zimmerman’s left field shot gave the Nationals an insurmountable lead. Zimmerman has picked up from where he left off before the All Star break. Zimmerman was 3-4 on the night, and raised his average to .250 on the season — which is a 22 point increase from late June.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Fish have always had an uncanny ability to take themselves apart, and this year is no different. The latest squabble pits sometimes shaky closer Heath Bell against slumping catcher John Buck.
“I’m not going to say anything bad about our catchers and I’m not going to say anything about our situations calling games,” Bell told reporters in explaining his ineffectiveness to reporters last Thursday — after another blown save. “I’m not going to call anybody else out.”
Buck responded: saying that Bell had a head on his shoulders — and if he didn’t like a pitch call he could always shake him off. Yesterday, Bell and Buck “cleared the air,” with Bell saying he was simply rambling on with reporters. “It ended up being absolutely nothing, just a misunderstanding,” Buck said in reviewing his discussion with Bell. “ . . . He seemed pretty sincere.”
Yeah, maybe — or maybe Miami is just staring to take its own clubhouse apart. Some of the problem is that Miami was picked as a contender, and is now in fourth place in the N.L. East, and ten games in back of the surging Nationals. Wednesday night’s premier of The Franchise has cast a very public spotlight on the Marlins, and on their embattled manager Ozzie Guillen.
“Are we just not that good?” Guillen asks at one point. “Is that possible? Did we get this team wrong?” The questions were intended to be rhetorical, but they are becoming less so in light of the Marlins’ June death spiral. The show’s premier aired a particularly blunt (and uncomfortable) exchange between Guillen and Bell that has become the talk of Miami.
While a lot of baseball analysts are focused on Bell, he’s only a part of the problem in Miami. Giancarlo Stanton has been sidelined for six weeks by knee surgery, spark plug Emilio Bonafacio is just back from the disabled list (the result of a sprained left thumb), Guillen has dropped Hanley Ramirez in the batting order (he’s hitting .251), and Miami stands 11th in ERA in the National League.
At least the Marlins can hit though, right? Well, not exactly. Miami is 13th in the N.L. in runs, and next-to-last in BA — at .241. At his current pace catcher John Buck will hit .178 for the year, Hanley Ramirez entered the All Star break at a 2-22 clip and with Stanton out at least until mid-August, the team lacks power.
This was going to be a great year for the Marlins: they were in a new ballpark and they’d spent money to shore up their starting pitching. They brought in Jose Reyes from the Metropolitans, signed Mark Buehrle and traded for Carlos Zambrano. But the team has not produced — a sure sign of which is the trade for the aging Carlos Lee to provide some necessary lift.
It won’t work — at least not until Josh Johnson regains his form, Hanley Ramirez starts to hit and the bullpen adequately guards one run leads. The loss of Stanton might be fatal: there is simply no way that Lee can pick up the slack. “It’s a huge move, I think, the front office, showing people how much we want to win,” Guillen said in explaining the trade. “They show how much we care about winning this year, they showed the players that they’re willing to do anything to help this ballclub.”
Guillen has this right, but in a strange kind of way: the trade for Lee was more of a message from the front office than a substantive move. No one thinks Lee will make the difference, but perhaps his mere presence will keep the likes of Carlos Zambrano from tipping over water buckets — or Hanley Ramirez from punching them. That is to say: the move signals that if the Fish don’t improve, they front office will cut bait.