Miami Marlins Plagued by Lackluster Offense, Shoddy Pitching and Injuries in a Dismal 2012 Season
After undergoing a major overhaul in the offseason that included hiring a new manager; changing the team’s name, logo, and uniforms; and opening a new ballpark; the Miami Marlins have endured a trying 2012 season characterized by poor hitting, weak pitching, and a slew of injuries that has found them depleting their already thin bench.
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They unveiled a new name, a fresh logo, and a sleek 37,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof. They donned new uniforms punctuated by splashes of orange, yellow, and blue. They hired a proven if combustible manager in Ozzie Guillen, who guided the Chicago White Sox to a World Championship in 2005. And the traditionally frugal front office finally opened up the pocketbooks to sign three of baseball’s most coveted free agents in the offseason: Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell.
The Miami Marlins learned the hard way, however, that undergoing a complete transformation is not a surefire recipe for winning ballgames. The team’s payroll skyrocketed from a paltry $56.9 million in 2011 to a staggering $118 million in 2012. But the team has little to show for it; as of August 24, it owns the worst record in its division at 57-70. The only National League team with a higher payroll in 2012 is the division rival Philadelphia Phillies, to the tune of $174.5 million. Ironically, despite their deep pockets, both teams have underperformed mightily this season and find themselves trying to climb out of the cellar in the National League East.
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is no stranger to controversy, and he found himself in the hot seat yet again just one week into the young season. The potty-mouthed Guillen drew the ire of Miami’s large Cuban community for saying he loved former dictator Fidel Castro. It didn’t take long for many residents to call for Guillen’s resignation; however, they would have to settle for a 5-game suspension.
After getting off to a sluggish 8-14 start in April, the Marlins turned the corner by winning a franchise-best 21 games in May. Undoubtedly, the team was carried by right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who hit a scorching .343 for the month and recorded a whopping 30 RBIs. With 12 home runs in May, he tied Dan Uggla for the most homers ever hit by a Marlin in a single month. (Uggla hit 12 homers in May 2008.) Additionally, the Marlins’ starters did their part by going 15-7 with a combined 3.53 ERA in May.
No sooner did Miami draw within half a game of first place than they crashed in dramatic fashion. In June, first-year Marlin Jose Reyes, third baseman Hanley Ramirez, and right fielder Giancarlo Stanton hit a combined .251 with 28 RBIs and 10 homers. Virtually every player on the team hit a slump at the exact same time. The result: They finished 8-18 in the month of June, slipping into last place and nearly replicating the abysmal 5-23 record the team posted in June of the prior season.
Alas, things would not be getting better anytime soon for the slumping Marlins. In a span of a few weeks, the team saw Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison land on the disabled list with knee injuries. Then there’s Emilio Bonifacio, who himself has spent three stints on the disabled list this season. He sprained his left thumb on two separate occasions and, most recently, was placed on the DL with a right knee sprain. Stanton returned to the starting lineup after having undergone successful knee surgery. Morrison in mid-August was placed on the 60-day disabled list, thus pulling the plug on the young outfielder’s substandard season. The Miami Marlins ended the month of July with a 10-16 record and an overall record of 47-56, sinking to a season-worst 9 games under .500 and effectively putting themselves in a deeper hole in the highly competitive NL East. And August, in which the Marlins have gone 10-14 so far, has not been much kinder to the team.
Several players, pitchers and hitters alike, played far below expectations in 2012. An All-Star in 2011, Gaby Sanchez was demoted to Triple-A and later traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates after hitting just .202 with 3 homers and 17 RBIs. Heath Bell, who signed a 3-year, $27 million contract with the Marlins in the offseason, lost his closer role for the second time after blowing 6 saves in 25 opportunities going into the All-Star break – prompting Ozzie Guillen to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the second half. Further, Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who missed most of the 2011 season with shoulder inflammation, has a disappointing 7-10 record through August 24. Carlos Zambrano’s control issues cost him his spot in the rotation, and starting catcher John Buck’s batting average has been stuck in the neighborhood of .170 for most of the season.
To the chagrin of many fans, the Marlins’ front office in July seemingly resigned itself to the fact that the pieces on this team didn’t fit well together. They thus became sellers at the trading deadline, dealing Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Detroit Tigers, and Edward Mujica to the St. Louis Cardinals. In return, the Marlins loaded up on minor league talent that includes prized pitching prospect Jacob Turner, who has been rated among the top twenty-five prospects in baseball for the last three years by Baseball America, and Zack Cox, the 25th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
The Marlins can, however, boast of a couple of bright spots amid an otherwise disastrous season. Justin Ruggiano, who spent 9 years in the minors, was traded from the Houston Astros to the Miami Marlins on May 26 – and it didn’t take long for the 30-year-old outfielder to make a huge impact. Finishing the first half with a .390 batting average, a .457 on-base percentage, and a .756 slugging percentage, Ruggiano was putting up All-Star-caliber numbers that deemed him worthy of a permanent spot in the starting lineup. And if you’re thinking it was just a first half fluke, think again: Through August 23, Ruggiano is hitting .320 with 12 home runs and 29 RBIs.
Also acquired from the Astros in a separate trade was first baseman Carlos Lee. Though he got off to a slow start as a member of the Marlins, Lee has come up with big hits in the clutch, and he has a solid .282 batting average to show for it – nearly identical to his career average of .286. Giancarlo Stanton earned NL Player of the Month honors for May and was selected to represent the Marlins at the All-Star Game, thanks largely to his team-leading 50 RBIs and 45 runs at the break. Unfortunately, he had to sit out the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby because of his knee injury. Shortstop Jose Reyes, meanwhile, has proven to Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria that he’s worth every cent of the monster six-year, $106-million contract the reigning NL batting champion signed with the team. He tied Emilio Bonifacio for the second longest hitting streak in Marlins’ history (26 games) and was nine short of Luis Castillo’s franchise-best 35-game streak in 2002. Through August 24, he’s hitting a wholesome .287 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs.
Another silver lining has been the paid attendance. The Marlins drew a total of 1,520,562 fans in 2011, the third worst attendance in all of baseball. But the lure of watching baseball games in rain-free, air-conditioned comfort has already ratcheted that number up to 1,687,734 in 2012 – and, mind you, we’re only in late August. What’s more, Miami Marlins gear has been flying off the shelves since before the 2012 season began. The team also was featured in Season 2 of “The Franchise,” a documentary-type series on the Showtime television network.
If you had told Ozzie Guillen back in April that his Marlins would be dead last in the NL East come the dog days of summer, he would likely have laughed in your face. Beset by nagging injuries, a shaky offense, and erratic pitching, the Marlins will now cast an eye toward the 2013 season. They can only hope that, with all the young, promising prospects they’ve picked up this season, things will only get better in the years to come.
For more information on the Miami Marlins, visit marlins.com.
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