April 04, 2005

Two-minute Marlins

A Cliffs Notes commentary on why the Florida Marlins will finish fourth in the NL East. While the bats, lead by new acquisition Carlos Delgado, pictured, should click, the BPF has doubts whether the starting rotation is built to endure the rigors of a 162-game season.

Last season: 83-79 (Third)
2005 prediction: 82-80 (Fourth)

Offense: Carlos Delgado was the last big name crossed off the free agent list, making fans second guess NL East supremacy after the big catch, Carlos Beltran, was reeled in by the Mets.

Delgado won't yield the obscene RBI totals some predicted early on. Even I jumped on the bandwagon proclaiming he’d hit 150 RBIs.

That’s a real stretch. Regaining my composure, I see about 100 RBIs, batting fourth behind Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo and Miguel Cabrera. Castillo, in particular, is in danger of becoming an especially bad No. 2 hitter because he supplies almost no power whatsoever. Baseball Prospectus had a funny tidbit on him: Since the strike zone returned to normal in 1969, just 24 other players have come to bat 600 times and had 21 or fewer extra-base hits.

My beef doesn't extend to Juan Pierre and MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera though. They'll rank among the best No. 1 and 3 hitters in the league again. Third basemen Mike Lowell and shortstop Alex Gonzalez also count among the peskiest opponents the Phillies will face this season. They seem to come through with big hits against the Phightins.

Overall, they're balanced from top to bottom …

1. Juan Pierre, CF
2. Luis Castillo, 2B
3. Miguel Cabrera, LF
4. Carlos Delgado, 1B
5. Mike Lowell, 3B
6. Paul LoDuca, C
7. Juan Encarnacion, RF
8. Alex Gonzalez, SS

Like I said, no big issues with offense. I don't like Castillo much anymore, or Encarnacion, but the rest of the guys can make up for what they lack.

Pitching: I view Al Leiter as one of the more overrated signings of winter, but he could bring a veteran leadership that's difficult to measure.

When talking about how far this team will go, most agree it's as far as Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett, the young, but oft-injured guys, can take them.

1. Josh Beckett, RHP
2. Al Leiter, LHP
3. A.J. Burnett, RHP
4. Dontrelle Willis, LHP
5. Ismael Valdez, RHP

Beckett and Burnett are tremendous overthrowers, but I'm ready to assume they'll both come through this season healthy. If so, I see a 17-game winner in Beckett, and a 15-game winner in Burnett.

It's the other three – Leiter, Dontrelle Willis and Ismael Valdez - that have all the warning signs of a massive implosion. The Fish will be hard pressed to get more than five innings out of Leiter and Valdez, and Willis is a young guy with bad mechanics that teams are figuring out how to hit.

This isn't a rotation built to endure the rigors of a 162-game season, and 30-plus games of Leiter and Valdez will wear that bullpen ragged.

Bullpen: There are early questions whether Guillermo Mota has what it takes to close games. Statheads may argue that his past success as a setup man in Los Angeles will lead to a nice transition as stopper, but there’s simply a mental difference when it comes to the ninth. Closers are the last line of defense. Remember the Arthur Rhodes experiment last season in Oakland? Rhodes was a tremendous setup man for his career, but stank to high hell as closer. Mota is younger and healthier, so I’ll stay safe by calling the situation "iffy" at this point.

The best are Mota, Antonio Alfonseca and former Phillie Todd Jones.

I see eye to eye with most writers on the textbook balance of the Marlins offense, but there's simply too much riding on pitchers Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett for the Fish to sustain a drive toward the playoffs. They will compete early, but fall from the playoff race because of a low-endurance rotation and an overworked bullpen.


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