Are The Miami Marlins Capable Of Winning the NL East?

By Mark Hock

The Miami Marlins made a huge splash back in December, signing reliever Heath Bell, shortstop Jose Reyes and starter Mark Buehrle. The addition of these veterans, plus the return to health of Josh Johnson and the recent trade for Carlos Zambrano has given the Marlins hope that they can compete in the NL East. After finishing 72-90, 30 games back of the Phillies, do the Marlins have what it takes to make the playoffs in the surprisingly competitive NL East?

The addition of Jose Reyes should improve the Marlins in two areas – hitting and defence. While injuries have robbed Reyes of the range he showed when he broke into the majors, he’s still an upgrade defensively over Hanley Ramirez. Pushing Ramirez to third will improve the left side of the infield, which should have a significant impact on a pitching staff that is very groundball heavy. With Omar Infante being a plus defender at second, the Marlins could have the makings of a solid defensive unit on the infield.

Offensively Reyes is coming off a career year, hitting 337 with 7 homers, 101 runs scored, while accumulating 6.2 WAR and stealing 39 bases. Reyes would have been the best hitter on the Marlins last season, no easy feat considering Mike Stanton was coming off a 34 homer, 378 wOBA season. While Reyes is likely to regress closer to his career averages, he should remain an above average hitter who will be a constant distraction on the bases. The Marlins have the upside to be an above average lineup, especially if Hanley Ramirez remembers how to hit. If that happens there’s a very good chance the Marlins could boast the best lineup in the NL East.

The Marlins pitching was their weakest link last season, no doubt thanks to the fact that ace Josh Johnson threw only 60 innings. Reports are that he’s healthy and ready to pitch, and his return should make a tremendous impact. Mark Buehrle is a tremendous addition, capable of throwing 200 innings with a sub 4 ERA. Now that he no longer has to face the DH or pitch in a hitters park, there’s a good chance Buehrle could put up some of the best numbers of his career. Last season their starting pitching was amongst the worst in the NL in both ERA and innings pitched, and Buehrle should help them on both fronts.

The addition of Heath Bell, however, may not be as helpful as we were led to believe. The Marlins had an above average bullpen last year, thanks to the emergence of Steve Cishek (2.63 ERA, 9.1 K/9) and the acquisition of Edward Mujica (2.96 ERA). Bell has been a dominant closer for the past few years, but the drop in strikeouts is a huge red flag. While he was able to post a low ERA (2.44) despite the drop in strikeouts (7.3K/9), if Bell is unable to strike out more than a batter an inning he simply won’t be the Marlins best reliever. This isn’t to say that Bell won’t be a useful piece, as he should be a quality reliever out of the bullpen. But the Marlins paid for an elite closer, and without the high strikeout totals Bell isn’t likely to perform like one.

Carlos Zambrano was simply horrible on and off the field last season. While he’s perfectly adequate for a back end starter, and has the upside to do more than that, the Marlins aren’t likely to get enough innings out of Zambrano for him to make a significant impact.

So where do the Marlins rank in the East?

While they’ve improved their team significantly, it likely isn’t enough to make the playoffs. The Nationals get Stephen Strasburg back in the rotation, and have also added southpaw Gio Gonzalez. A healthy and productive Zimmerman is among the best players in the game, and a return to form by him make the Nationals, and not the Marlins the darkhorse candidate for the division.

The Braves are getting reinforcements through their farm system, as they have several young arms capable of making an impact this season. And while the Phillies are no longer the dominant force in the NL, they should still be on pace for a 90+ win season.

The Marlins have taken some positive steps forward, but it’s unlikely that they will make the playoffs this year. The Braves and Phillies are just too strong for the Marlins, who still have too many weaknesses that will ultimately prevent them from making the playoffs in the competitive NL East.

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