Series Preview #14: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Miami Marlins

Victor Decolongon

I seem to recall that someone on here said that, if they couldn't be a Diamondback fan, they would root for the Marlins, because they're so fun to watch. I wonder if that poster still thinks that.

There's a lot of internet rage about what the Marlins have done over the past ten months or so. And I guess it makes sense, given how quickly Jeffrey Loria stopped being the responsible public steward who we all assumed he'd become for some reason after he got his shiny, publicly-funded stadium.

But let's take a minute to acknowledge one thing: from a purely baseball standpoint, there's nothing really wrong with what the Marlins did here. They had an overpaid, middling roster, and they blew it up. Could they have kept a few of the veterans to keep the team happy and somewhat respectable? Probably, yeah. Could they have gotten better prospects in the process? Most likely. But they did what probably 20 other GMs in baseball would have done with that roster.

So with that in mind, why is no one angry about what happened last year? The Marlins went into the 2012 season with a new cash flow disguised as a stadium and a desire to make a splash. Somewhere along the way, I'm pretty sure the Marlins fired their GM and replaced him with a teenager whose only knowledge of baseball came from playing MLB 07: The Show a little too frequently. It should have been a bigger story than it was.

In came Jose Reyes, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. Future generations will never believe us when we tell them that Heath Bell was once a big-ticket item, even if we can convince them that the Marlins once spent money. But bear with me.

How were they allowed to do this? With the exception of Jose Reyes, who is only a star when he's actually healthy, no one in that clump has been worth more than four fWAR since 2008. Why did they and everyone else just assume that adding a few non-stars to a roster that won 72 games the year before would work in a really good division?

So yeah, it flopped, and the Marlins blew it up. Even in Miami, where fire sales are a tradition, this was rough. There are prospects now, where none existed before, but wow, the process of getting to those prospects is going to be long and arduous.

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):


Arizona
(23-18)
Miami
(11-29)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 90 66
Arizona
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
87/88 107/104
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
15.0 -7.8

Arizona

This is really something. You though the Diamondbacks' offense was bad, after they went a week without scoring more than three runs? You'd be right, but you still haven't seen anything yet.

The Marlins have scored 2.75 runs per game. They've been shut out in 7 of the 40 games they've played so far. Their team OPS is .609, which is a couple points below what Josh Wilson has hit this season. Think about that for a moment: when I say that they've fielded a team of Josh Wilsons so far, this is actually unfair to Josh Wilson.

In terms of nice things to say about the Marlins, their bullpen can charitably be described as adequate, with a FIP- of 93. I doubt it makes Marlin fans feel much better, but I guess it's something.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Didi Gregorius, SS
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Eric Chavez, 3B
5. Jason Kubel, LF
6. Martin Prado, 2B
7. A.J. Pollock, CF
8. Miguel Montero, C

Miami Marlins

1. Juan Pierre, LF
2. Placido Polanco, 3B
3. Derek Dietrich, 2B
4. Marcell Ozuna, RF
5. Justin Ruggiano, CF
6. Greg Dobbs, 1B
7. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
8. Rob Brantly, C

First of all, let's be clear here: I did not just make up a lineup to make the Marlins look as bad as possible. They used this lineup for two of the three games in the Reds series that they just completed.

Also, there have been injuries. Giancarlo Stanton is out for the next few weeks, which is a bummer because Giancarlo Stanton is awesome and terrifying. So this isn't the Marlins at full strength.

But as of this writing, the Marlins' de facto 3 and 4-hole hitters have a combined 77 Plate Appearances above Double-A. They weren't so dominant that they forced a promotion either. Ozuna was #75 on Baseball America's Top 100 while Dietrich was nowhere to be found. Occasionally things like this happen in September, with a team that doesn't care about hitting 100 losses just trying something new. The Marlins have reached September ennui in mid-May.

So why are they in the middle of the order? Because they're the only players on the active roster who currently have an OPS+ over 100.

I know I'm being harsh on Miami here, and I'm really not trying to be. There are some building blocks here. Rob Brantly has an OPS+ of 84, but he's only 23 and he has plenty of time and opportunity to improve, and his minor league profile suggests that he'll eventually have a better Slugging Percentage than .330

Plenty of people thought that Adeiny Hechavarria was better than Didi Gregorius just two months ago. He's hitting .187, but he's a fast shortstop and fast shortstops don't BABIP .197 forever.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: Trevor Cahill (2-4, 2.70) vs. Kevin Slowey (1-3, 2.55)

Insightful Commentary: Cahill was not at his best against Philly, allowing four walks in five innings. But it only resulted in a single run. This has sort of been the theme for Cahill since he went back to using his sinker more about four starts. The overall results have been fantastic though, as he has a 1.80 ERA in his last four starts.

In a season where all the big things go wrong, all you can do is root for the handful of things that go right. Kevin Slowey, at least so far, has been one of those things. He came over after posting a 6.67 ERA with the Twins in 2011 and he didn't even make it out of Triple-A in 2012. But he's been fantastic for the Marlins so far, with a streak of Quality Starts that finally ended his last time out in Reds. It isn't just luck, either, as his FIP of 3.40 would be the lowest mark of his career.

Saturday: Brandon McCarthy (0-3, 5.63) vs. Tom Koehler (0-1, 3.31)

Insightful Commentary: After seven of the most frustrating starts of his career, McCarthy reminded everyone why the team went out and got him in the first place. Eight scoreless innings, and it only took him 88 pitches to do it. He still allowed seven hits, but that's a season-low for him, and he didn't walk anyone. That last part is part of a larger pattern: he's only walked two batters total in his last five starts.

This will be Koehler's third start of his career and the second of the season. In the last one, he went five innings against the Dodgers, giving up two runs in the process. He's almost 27, so he really doesn't count as a prospect. He's just sort of around until the Marlins get their actual prospects ready and/or not injured. So basically, he's very 2013 Marlins.

Sunday: Wade Miley (3-2, 3.75) vs. Ricky Nolasco (2-5, 4.39)

Insightful Commentary: Miley was phenomenal for the first four innings of his last start. Sadly, it lasted part of six innings. I've watched a fair number of Wade Miley starts, and I'm fairly sure I've never seen him come unraveled like he did after an error and a dubious call on a walk. It was weird to see, and I won't be terribly sad if I never see it again.

You've got to feel for Ricky Nolasco. Everyone else from his generation of the Marlins was either traded or let go. He's like the one member of the friend group who never left his hometown, and now he's 31 and he's surrounded by a bunch of guys who he barely knows. This metaphor stopped being a metaphor and simply became accurate.

Three Pressing (?) Questions:

What's going on with Jose Fernandez, since he's by far the most interesting part of the Marlins right now? For those who don't know, Fernandez is the Marlins' 20-year-old phenom pitcher. He has an ERA under 4.00 (3.65) and he's striking out more than a batter per inning, which means that he's an above-average major-league starter at an age where most prospects are toiling in Single-A. To put this into perspective, he's all of 10 days older than Archie Bradley.

What are the people in charge of the team saying about this team? Actually, they're just as confused as everyone else.

So, this is going to get less depressing at some point, right? Eventually. Logan Morrison is out for the season after knee surgery, and most of the young pitchers who they've acquired for various players are going to be back by next season at the very latest. Add in those players to a team built around Giancarlo Stanton, and they have a shot to be a 2011 Diamondbacks-esque surprise team in a year or two. It doesn't make it any easier to watch in the short term, though.

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