NL East Report: Miami On The Move
The growing pains of April are officially behind the Miami Marlins. Between a combination of bad baseball ( an 8-14 record), bad politics (Ozzie Guillen’s love for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro) and bad PR (Guillen’s actually saying so out loud to the press), Miami had the markings of a team that wouldn’t live up to the hype of the offseason. But in May, the bats are slowly starting to pick up, Guillen’s managerial skills are taking hold and the Marlins have gone 8-1. They’re now above .500 and right back into the mix in the NL East.
Starting pitching has been the key for Miami, both during the woes of April and the recovery of May. Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco are all having very good years, particularly Sanchez who’s ERA is 2.01. Then we come to Carlos Zambrano. The organization took a chance that perhaps Guillen could harness the temperamental, but talented righthander and get his career back on track after his turbulent tenure on the North Side of Chicago ended badly. The early reports tell us that the Big Z has a 1.98 ERA and is coming off a complete game shutout. So far, so good. The fly in the ointment has been Josh Johnson, who’s struggled from the outset and shows no signs of turning it around. And given the history he’s had with his shoulder, we’re hitting the point here over the next couple months where a DL trip has been the norm. Still, the Marlins have four solid starters even with their #1 having a bad year.
The bullpen has gone through a rough patch, mainly because Heath Bell blew four saves early and Guillen removed him from the closer’s role. According to the manager, Bell will be given a chance to win the job back and he needs to. Miami has enough bullpen depth that Guillen can mix and match pitches to get through the later innings, but only Bell has the stuff to be the kind of lockdown pitcher who can get three outs whenever you need them. The pen overall had a great week, logging 16 2/3 innings and giving up just three runs, but they need their big gun to stabilize.
Offensively, no one has season-long numbers that impress you, save Omar infant and his .635 slugging percentage. But if you told Guillen that Infante would be his main offensive weapon, he might have called off the season right there. Fortunately, Giancarlo Stanton is starting to hit for power and now has six home runs, and Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez won’t stay quiet forever. They won’t stay quiet, the manager will never stay quiet and the Marlins have shown they won’t stay quiet. Their 8-1 May record was compiled all on the road. Even if you want to dismiss an opponent like San Diego, you can’t dismiss San Francisco and Houston’s played respectable baseball this year. The 16-15 record is still in fourth place in the NL East, but the Marlins are only three games out of first and can start moving up the ladder this weekend when they host the third-place Mets.
Around the rest of the NL East…
Washington (19-12): With Jayson Werth out and the offense riding entirely on Ryan Zimmerman and Rick Ankiel, the Nats’ 10th-place showing in the National League for runs scored last week is going to be the norm. Which means that performances like Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler’s, where they turned in 6 IP/3 ER efforts, won’t be good enough anymore.
Atlanta (19-13): A sweep of Colorado last weekend has obscured the fact the Braves are slowly stumbling against everyone else, having lost 2 of 3 in the three series surrounding that trip to Denver, including early this week in Wrigley Field. The pitching is the problem, and heralded prospect Mike Minor is looking like he should travel to his last name. The plus? Tim Hudson threw seven excellent innings against the Cubbies and might be getting settled in after his return from the disabled list.
NY Mets (18-13): The Mets’ offense is notoriously poor. The Phillies’ pitching has a deserved reputation for excellence. So it came as a shock when New York swept Philly on the road early this week and scored 22 runs in the process. Andres Torres, the centerfielder who first came off the slag heap to help San Francisco win the World Series two years ago, is now red-hot for the Mets. So is Daniel Murphy at second base. We’re still waiting for an offensive appearance from first baseman Ike Davis though. But manager Terry Collins did find a bullpen—his relief corps gave him 15 IP at an ERA of 2.40 last week. And even most of the failure went to the feet of Jon Rauch. If Collins can rely on a trio of Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez and Bobby Parnell, he can keep this team afloat through the summer. While that’s not a devastating trio, there’s certainly reason for hope they can pitch well all year.
Philadelphia (14-18): Philly’s pitching failure against the Mets came right as they started to score some runs. Over the past week only noted attacks in St. Louis and Atlanta scored more runs than Philadelphia. This was thanks to a power binge from Hunter Pence who hit four home runs and essentially carried the team on his back. Now the reality is that there’s nothing to indicate the Phils are any closer to solving their long-term offensive problems and they missed a chance to win games while they were hitting. But the plus—and a big one it is—is that Cliff Lee came back from the DL and threw six good innings against the Mets. Between Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton and the entire bullpen being ripped apart by New York’s offense, Lee’s outing was the high point of the Philly week.