The Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins start a three-game series in the nation's capital tonight with Stephen Strasburg on the mound against Fish right-hander Jacob Turner. The two teams split the last two-game set in Marlins Park, leaving the season series at 8-7 in the Nationals' favor with three more to play this weekend. We exchanged questions and answers with the SB Nation's Marlins site, Fish Stripes, in advance of this weekend's matchup which completes the season series between the NL East rivals:
Fish Stripes: Marlins play-by-play commentator Tommy Hutton has been singing the praises of Adam LaRoche as a top five NL MVP candidate. Obviously that is not the case, but how important has he been this season for the Nats?
Federal Baseball: LaRoche has been a huge boost to the Nationals offensively and defensively in year two of his deal after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. 27 doubles, 29 HRs, a .270/.343/.511 line, he's been one of the more productive first baseman in the league this year (+3.1 fWAR tied for 5th in MLB), but more importantly for the Nationals he's stabilized the infield defense dramatically. I lost count a long time ago of the number of picks he's made on short throws at first, the number of times he's effortlessly reached across the basepath into foul territory to catch wide throws to first. The Nationals are a dramatically improved team defensively and at least in the infield he's played an important role in bringing about that change. I admittedly underestimated his value before he joined the Nats and though I agree that talking about him as an NL MVP candidate is a bit of stretch, he's been huge for the Nationals.
• Read the entire Q&A over at Fish Stripes...
• Read a quick Q&A with Michael Jong from Fish Stripes after the so-called JUMP...
FBb: Obviously the first year with Ozzie Guillen as manager didn't go as the team seemed to think it would but have you seen any positive developments with him on the bench? Can you give just an overall feel of what someone following the Marlins thinks of him as a manager?
• Fish Stripes: I think Marlins fans are mixed on Ozzie Guillen as a manager. Some undoubtedly love his fire, though he has been more tempered this season due to the Fidel Castro controversy earlier in the year. Others are less amused by his too-traditional stance on a number of managerial moves, including his previous insistence on sticking with Heath Bell in the closer role. Overall, I would say year one of the Guillen regime was neither helped nor hurt by his presence, making the whole hiring a $2.5 million wash this season. It will be interesting to see if Guillen will change his stripes next season to meet his previous form.
FBb: Did you buy into the offseason hype, the big FA signings, the rebirth of baseball in Miami? What were your expectations coming into the season and what are your thoughts on how things have played out?
• Fish Stripes: Obviously, the 2012 season has been a major disappointment for the Miami Marlins, but in terms of whether I "bought into the hype," certainly. On paper, the projections had the Marlins winning somewhere between 84 to 88 games, depending on who you asked. Those were not just expectations by a biased ownership or optimistic front office, but impartial third-party observers. No one could have foreseen the multiple collapses that led to the downfall of the Marlins this year and the eventual trading of starting talent. If the ball bounces the right way a few more times in June, maybe the Marlins do not look to reset parts of their roster for 2013 and beyond and are trying to make a run for a Wild Card now instead. But with the bad luck (and probably some number of mistakes in the offseason, though not as much as folks are saying now in hindsight), things just did not go the team's way, and there can be nothing but disappointment to be had this year.
FBb: Did Hanley Ramirez have to go? And in the deals the Marlins made, which prospect or player that they received in return are you most excited about?
• Fish Stripes: The situation with Hanley Ramirez and whether he should have been traded depends on your view of him going forward. The Marlins saw more or less one and a half seasons of a league average hitter with a bad infield glove and thought that, going forward, it was not likely to get much better. They decided to dump his contract instead of paying upwards of $38 million to find out if he would return. When you also consider the off-field baggage that Ramirez carried in the eyes of the organization and its fan base, you can understand why the team made the move.
As for what they received in return, the most intriguing name is Detroit starting pitching prospect Jacob Turner, who will make the opening start in the upcoming series. Turner is a highly-ranked prospect with a lot of pedigree who was moved up the Tigers' system in an accelerated pace. As a result, he never dominated and looked more and more like a sure-fire middle-rotation starter who had little chance to fail. His 2012 season in Triple-A has been disappointing, but since arriving in Miami, he has been very solid, posting 11 strikeouts and no walks in 11 innings. Despite the ugly ERA and mediocre FIP (he did allow three homers as well), the future looks good for Turner.
FBb: Thanks, Michael.