Part two of the turnaround teams series. In the last 6 seasons, and 16 of the 17 in the Wild Card Era, a team has made the playoffs after posting a losing record the previous year. 2012 should be no different and when the playoffs expand, whether that be this season or next, look for the trend to continue.
Change is the theme of the season down in South Florida. With new uniforms, an eccentric new ballpark, an outspoken manager, and a newfound willingness to spend, the re-branded Miami Marlins plan to make noise in 2012. All the cash spent in Miami this offseason was able to net a pretty impressive group of players in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. Miami added these new faces to a very talented and young core including Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison, and Anibal Sanchez. This is a team that could do some damage coming of off a disappointing 72-90 season which saw both Ramirez and Johnson end the season early on the disabled list. At the very least the Marlins should be able to finish around .500 and make the NL East the deepest division in baseball. If all the pieces fall in place just right under new manager Ozzie Guillen, the Fish could be looking at big things in 2012.
On offense the Marlins are going to have an excellent mix of power and speed. At the top of the lineup are two of the fastest players in the game, in Emilio Bonifacio and Jose Reyes. Ozzie Guillen, has said he would like to start his lineup with the two speedsters, and he is an aggressive manager who like to run when he has the horses to do so. The White Sox in 2010 stole the 2nd most bases in the majors, with Juan Pierre leading the way. Both Reyes and Bonifacio have the potential to steal 40+ bases. The heart of the order should provide plenty of pop, with Stanton a threat to top 40 homers, Morrison a threat to hit over 30, and Gaby Sanchez a threat to go deep 20 times. If Hanley Ramirez can get back on track he should hit more than 20 homers as well and could hit for more than 30. Florida was the 8th worst offense in baseball last seasons and that should no doubt improve with full years from Ramirez and Reyes, as well as the continued improvement of the young players. This offense will rank as one of the 5 best in the National League and keep Miami in any game.
The Marlins’ pitching staff was also mediocre as well last season but should get a monumental boost from the free agent acquisitions of Buehrle and Bell, as well as a full season of ace Josh Johnson. Johnson is one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. Two years ago he led the entire league in ERA+, with an astronomical 180, and last season he was destroying hitters in his first 9 starts with a miniscule 1.64 ERA (234 ERA+!!). When healthy, Johnson is one of the 2-3 best pitchers in baseball. If Miami can get a full 30 starts out of their ace they should finish no worse than .500.
The pitching staff will also benefit from the frighteningly consistent Mark Buehrle. 4 of the last 5 seasons the former White Sox ace had finished with an ERA+ between 115 and 130. He’s the only pitcher in baseball to make 30 starts in the last 11 seasons. And with a move to the National League, he should see a slight improvement in his numbers, and post another ERA below 4.00. He immediately slides into the #2 spot in the rotation and pushes Anibal Sanchez down a peg, to his more natural #3. Sanchez is a high strikeout pitcher with a walk rate around 3 per 9 innings. He has been just above league average the last 2 seasons and will more than likely continue to do so as he enters his age 28 season. If Ricky Nolasco, who hasn’t posted an ERA+ above league average since 2008, and Carlos Zambrano, who is the most combustible player in baseball, can hold together the bottom of the rotation, the Marlins could have a top 10 pitching staff.
No matter what happens in 2012 for the Miami Marlins, the team will be fascinating to keep tabs on. Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano are highly volatile and could explode at any time. The ballpark is going to be a psychedelic South Florida experience equipped with a massive 50-foot tall homerun display and fish tanks behind home plate. The lineup should score in bunches and suffocate pitchers with the amount of pressure the running game can supply. Josh Johnson is fantastic to watch, and a threat for a no-hitter when he is dialed in. All of the pieces could add up to a division title or they could slide into 4th and combust.
I’m more inclined to think the former, and I believe that the Marlins will be back in the playoffs in some capacity this season. What happens if they get that far is anybody’s guess but this is a talented team that could do serious damage in the playoffs.