Record/Position/Streak: 16-18, 3rd in NL East, W1 (5-5 in last 10)
Scheduled Starters: Friday, Scott Olsen (3-2, 4.89) vs. Shawn Hill (2-3, 3.00); Saturday, Ricky Nolasco (1-1, 7.30) vs. Matt Chico (2-4, 6.03); Sunday, Wes Obermuller (1-1, 3.66) vs. Jason Simontacchi (0-1, 6.00)
They're Feelin': DAY GAMES SUCK!
The 2007 Marlins are the Bo Kimble/Hank Gathers era Loyola Marymount of National League baseball. They're high-octane on the attack, indifferent on the defensive side. These Marlins can pound the hardball with the best of them, and they certainly don't get cheated. They lead the league in strikeouts (299, 42 more than the next-most whifftastic team), and they lead the league in extra-base hits. As you can see above, the result has been dynamic: second in the NL in runs per game. But their weakness, if you want to reduce it to such a term, is on the other side of the scoreboard. They're last in the league in runs allowed, a position aided not insubstantially by the worst defensive efficiency percentage in the league. This is to say that the Marlins convert the fewest outs on balls in play, which is to say their defense as a whole probably stinks. But let us not miss sight of the role their starting pitchers have played; as Fish Chunks notes, they are last in the NL in starter ERA and innings pitched per start. Operation Innings, indeed.
So Larry Beinfeist has built an imperfect beast, but then again the beast he has built is darn toothy for the scant impression the thing leaves on the club's balance sheet. I'm sure that when it growls, it growls "ROI!" The Marlins have the big league's second-lowest payroll -- one spot lower and $7 million less than Washington -- but have proven a fascinating mix. They're not among the class of the division in all likelihood, but they're feisty enough to command some respect.
It wasn't always that way, as we recall. One year ago today, the fire-sold Marlins dropped a 9-1 decision to the Braves, their twenty-third defeat in their first 32 games. (That's 9-23, by the way, the record the Nats had after the first loss in Milwaukee.) Losing eight of their next ten after that, the Marlins bottomed out at 11-31. They were latest team to challenge the futility of the '62 Mets, yuck yuck yuck.
But the Marlins soared back to respectability -- and, in a tepid National League, the fringes of contention. Within a month, they had chopped half or more of the gap to break-even. They held their ground, then made another charge. By Labor Day, they had reached and momentarily exceeded .500.
Do not get the wrong impression, because if you do you're going to try to name this tune on the second note, and you'd be wrong. I'm not trying to analogize the 2007 Nats with the 2006 Marlins. That would be insane, considering what the Fish did last season was fairly unprecedented and these Nats are, well, these Nats.
When you're scoring all of 2.91 runs per game, I'm certain you look forward to dates with the team that has surrendered the most runs in the league; yet, you must remember there is only one team that has surrendered the most runs in the league. I'd feel better about this series if there were a Bergmann-Hill progression somewhere, but there isn't; for some reason, I have a feeing Simontacchi might tie them up a little bit on Sunday and, at any rate, this might be the time for the first series win of the season. Crazy talk? Maybe; but it will happen at some point.
But suffice it to say there won't be a thrilling run back to .500 and, even if there were, that probably wouldn't be good enough for some low-level wild card excitement this season. The situations between last year and this year really aren't analogous. Furthermore, the Marlins just have a much better base of talent, precisely because they were dealing with (and from) a substantial base of talent prior to last season. They had Cabrera and Dontrelle, two precocious talents who have transformed themselves into superstars. (Maybe "superstar" isn't quite the right word for Dontrelle, but I love the guy at any rate.) And, when you're dumping the Delgados and Becketts of the world, you can receive the Hanleys and Anibals of the world in return. Now, Sanchez was recently demoted to the minors (and landed on DL), but the difference between the Marlins' talent and the Nats' talent is that they Marlins optioned out a guy with a no-hitter and the Nats might eventually option out Matt Chico. That's a bit of a difference (and I don't mean as much of a slight to Chico).
As the season progresses, you hear the announcers present various teams as models for the Nats' developmental plan: the Braves, naturally, but also teams like the Tigers, Brewers, and Marlins. We've beaten the Braves angle to death, of course, but I don't see the Tigers or Marlins situations being all that comparable. They might seem comparable in retrospect if we're having this discussion in 2012, but right now I don't see it. Who's the Jeremy Bonderman in this equation, living and learning and losing for the time being? Is it Chico? No. Again, not to slight Chico, but he's the Mike Maroth. There's no Bonderman, both literally and figuratively. Maybe he'll end up being Colton Willems or someone like that, but the comparison isn't there yet. And I think if you view the Marlins' strategy with the Nats' strategy, there's really no comparison to be made.
Ultimately, I think we're left with the Brewers model, and thankfully "The Plan" means we can't confuse the Nats with the 2001 "Let's Pay Jeffrey Hammons Lots of Money" version of the Brew Crew. In large part, the Nats must do what they say they must do and what the Brewers did: draft very well, develop even better, and still get tip-top performance out of unlikely guys like Bill Hall. The Marlins have taken the accelerated plan, but that's not our course. Slow and steady wins the race.