Every year this happens: One Major League Baseball team becomes the fodder for sports writers early in the season because of its mysteriously sparkling record.
Last year it was the Milwaukee Brewers. On this day last year the Brewers held a record of 25-11, then tops in the majors. Led by Prince Fielder’s innate homerun abilities and love of the Milwaukee sausages, the Brew Crew took advantage of an easy opening schedule, racking up wins against terrible competition. Hell, even Chris Capuano was 5-0 to start the season.
Then reality happened. The Brewers started playing teams other than the Pirates, Cards and Nationals and their grip on the worst division in baseball slipped. Capuano went on an epic losing streak ending the season with a 5-12 record, the young team stopped hitting as the drudge of the summer led into fall, and Milwaukee finished the season four games over .500 and two out of the Central’s playoff spot.
With this precedent from last year established it’s now time to analyze this year’s overachiever award – which goes to none other than those Florida Marlins. If you have watched ESPN or read any sports related magazine, you no doubt have seen the takes on the Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays. Are they for real? This question has been salivated over by many a sports writer, but no one seems to speak in regards to the two teams’ schedules.
First off, there are 162 games in a season. The Marlins’ record currently stands at a major league best 23-15 (tied with the D-Backs and Cubs) thanks in part to their recently snapped seven-game winning streak. Although credit is due to the Marlins for having the lowest payroll in the majors at right around $22.5 million, about the cost of a pair of A-Rod’s socks, and finally locking up the number-one fantasy player in Hanley Ramirez with a six-year contract extension, there is just no way they can continue to win at this rate.
As a team the Marlin bats are just crushing the ball, while their pitching just goes along for the ride. The team currently ranks fifth in the majors in on-base plus slugging thanks in part to having the most homeruns out of all 30 teams. Dan Uggla (1.027 OPS, 28 RBI, 12 HR) and Ramirez (.331 BA, 9 HR, 13 SB) are studs and deserve all the accolades that they amass, but offensively every other Marlin is overachieving. The Marlins currently rank fourth to last in save opportunities and during their recent win streak won games by an average of five runs – that adds up to simply beating their opponents senseless with their bats. I am a true believer in the idea that pitching wins championships and the Marlins just do not have enough.
The Marlins’ current starting rotation is comprised of Scott Olsen (4-1, 2.63 ERA) and Mark Hendrickson (5-1, 3.56 ERA). After that, all they have is super-prospect Andrew Miller followed by a rock and an old shoe. Anybody who watched Hendrickson pitch when he was with the Dodgers knows that his numbers must be either a mirage or just pure luck, which leaves Olsen to be the only legit starter in my eyes. Once this team starts to play real competition, expect to see the bullpen early and often because this pitching is not going to last.
Now onto the most important reason the Marlins are so far over .500 – their schedule. Thus far, Florida has a winning record against just one team playing over .500 ball, with their 3-2 record against the Braves. The rest of their wins have come over the Nationals, Padres, and slumping Brewers – three of the most miserable teams at the moment. Florida is 15-3 against these teams while just 8-12 against the rest of the NL. Having an 8-1 record against the Double-A Nats proves nothing, when you have yet to play a significant number of games against the Mets (NY leads season series 2-1) and have yet to even face last year’s NL East Champion Phillies.
These ingredients have the Marlins’ high hopes destined for disintegration. Florida’s math just does not add up, and I hate to disappoint all eight fans that go to their games, but expect to see them drift to the bottom of the standings by mid-June. However, on a positive note, anticipate the fellow “Sunshine State” Rays to continue to impress, given the high caliber teams they have already proven they can beat in the stacked AL East, showing the Marlins that its who you beat that makes you a contender.