NLCS Prediction and Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)

Keys for the Dodgers: Get into the Cardinals’ bullpen; stop Carlos Beltran; mitigate the Cardinals’ big post-season performers; coax manager Mike Matheny into mistakes.

The Cardinals’ strength lies in its hot playoff performers and the starting pitching of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and the potential of Joe Kelly. The Dodgers must get the starting pitchers’ pitch counts up to dig into the Cardinals’ weak point: the bullpen. The Dodgers have the depth in their offense to get to the Cardinals. They might, however, not have the patience to get their pitch counts up. They like to swing the bat and that might not be the best possible strategy against these Cardinals pitchers.

Beltran is a very good to great player during the regular season. In the post-season, he becomes a historic player. For his career against current Dodgers’ pitchers, Beltran has hammered Ronald Belisario and Ricky Nolasco. In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound, Beltran is a constant threat. To the dismay and disgust of Mets fans, that excludes Wainwright, who he won’t hit against because they’re teammates. If the Dodgers stop Beltran, they have a great chance of stopping the Cardinals.

The other Cardinals’ post-season performers have history of their own against the Dodgers’ pitchers. Matt Holliday has the following numbers against some of the Dodgers’ top arms:

Clayton Kershaw: .303 batting average; .465 OBP; .424 slugging; two homers.

Zack Greinke: .346 batting average; .393 OBP; .577 slugging; two homers.

Nolasco: .462 batting average; .481 OBP; .885 slugging; two homers.

David Freese is hitting .333 vs. Greinke; and 500 vs. Nolasco.

Manager Matheny has done some strange things in his time as manager, especially with the bullpen and he doesn’t have a closer. He could be coaxed into panicky mistakes.

Keys for the Cardinals: Hope the Dodgers pitch Nolasco; lean on their playoff performers; get depth from the starters; hope the games don’t come down to the bullpen.

Nolasco is listed as the game four starter. We’ll see if that actually happens. If the Dodgers are down two games to one in the series when game four rolls around, I can’t imagine them pitching Nolasco with the numbers the Cardinals’ hitters have against him. In addition to Holliday, Beltran, Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay and Freese have all battered him as well. If he pitches, the Cardinals’ history says they’re going to bash him.

With the Cardinals, there can’t be any discussion without referencing Wainwright, Beltran, Molina, Holiday and Freese with their post-season performances. Very few teams can boast these prime time players.

Apparently, Trevor Rosenthal is going to close for the Cardinals. Matheny – with good reason – doesn’t trust seasonlong closer Edward Mujica. Rosenthal throws very hard, but was shaky in his save chance against the Pirates in the NLDS. Matheny will push his starters as deep as he can.

What will happen:

The Cardinals barely got past the Pirates and much of that was due to the Pirates’ lack of experience in games of this magnitude. The Dodgers won’t have the lack of experience going against them. With their lineup, the Dodgers will feast on the Cardinals’ bullpen. Kershaw and Greinke can match Wainwright and Wacha. Kelly is a complete unknown and the Dodgers have the veteran hitters – Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez – to get at the Cardinals pitchers, especially their relievers.

If this series comes down to a battle of the bullpens, the Dodgers have a distinct advantage with Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen at the back end. The Dodgers’ bats have some post-season experience, but nothing in comparison to that of the Cardinals. The Dodgers’ bats aren’t youngsters, so it’s unlikely they’ll be intimidated. And Yasiel Puig isn’t intimidated by anything. In fact, he’s the type of player who’ll relish the spotlight and want to show off in front of Beltran.

The Dodgers have too much starting pitching, too deep a bullpen and too good a lineup. The Cardinals are a “sum of their parts” team. The Dodgers have the star power and depth where it counts.

PREDICTION: DODGERS IN FIVE

NLCS MVP: YASIEL PUIG




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NLDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

Games, Players, Playoffs

St. Louis Cardinals (97-65) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68)

Keys for the Cardinals: Get runners on base; continue trend of hot hitting with runners in scoring position; try not to leave the game in the hands of the bullpen; get the goods from their proven post-season performers.

The Cardinals led the National League in runs scored using a similar formula as the Yankees of the 1990s used by having a very high teamwide on-base percentage and no big home run hitters. Instead of having that one basher in the middle of the lineup hitting 35-45 homers as they did with Albert Pujols, they spread the wealth in the home run department with six hitters in double figures. Not one, however, had more than 24. In addition, the Cardinals had a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position.

The Cardinals bullpen is deep and diverse. Edward Mujica pitched well for much of the season as the team’s accidental closer after Jason Motte was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery. Mujica saved 37 games and walked only five batters in 64.2 innings. Home runs have always been his bugaboo and he surrendered nine. With Mujica’s struggles, the Cardinals have to decide whether to stick to the regular season script and leave him in the role, go with Trevor Rosenthal or a closer-by-committee.

The Cardinals have a roster full of players who’ve put up big numbers in the post-season with Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, David Freese and Yadier Molina. Players who’ve performed in the post-season have a tendency to do it again.

Keys for the Pirates: Don’t wait too long with their starting pitchers; don’t change their game; keep the Cardinals off the bases; get into the Cardinals’ bullpen.

The Cardinals were vulnerable to lefty pitchers but with Francisco Liriano having started the Wild Card Game against the Reds, he won’t pitch until game three in Pittsburgh. The Pirates are starting A.J. Burnett in game one and Gerrit Cole in game two. Even though he struggled in September, I might’ve rolled the dice and started Jeff Locke in game one if I were manager Clint Hurdle. The Pirates have a deep bullpen and shouldn’t wait too long with their starting pitchers before making a change. Locke as a middle reliever might end up being more effective than having him start.

As stated earlier, the Cardinals get a lot of runners on base. The Pirates have a solid defense and have to shun the walk – this is especially true for Burnett with his scattershot control.

If the Pirates don’t get the Cardinals starting pitchers’ pitch counts up and force manager Mike Matheny to go to the bullpen, they might not get a shot at Mujica.

The Pirates won their games this season with good starting pitching, speed, power from Pedro Alvarez, a great back of the bullpen and defense. They have to maintain all facets of their game.

What will happen:

The Cardinals are built more for the long season than for a short series. While they have those aforementioned big time post-season players, the Pirates have the pitching and bullpen depth to neutralize them. If the Cardinals don’t get runners on the bases, they’re not going to score because they don’t hit enough home runs and the Pirates don’t surrender many home runs. Mujica is not trustworthy as a post-season closer and if it comes down to a one-run lead in the ninth inning, everyone in St. Louis will be holding their collective breaths waiting for the inevitable longball.

The Pirates are riding a wave with their veteran acquisitions Russell Martin and Marlon Byrd leading the way joining Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker in the lineup. A lack of post-season experience could be a problem. The Cardinals have loads of it and the Pirates have nearly none. It could also go the other way. With the first playoff appearance and playoff win in two decades under their belts, the Pirates won’t feel the pressure. That’s one instance when the Wild Card Game will benefit a young and inexperienced team.

I don’t like the way Matheny handles the bullpen as if he’s panicky and desperate not to do the wrong thing rather than do the right thing.

The Pirates’ method of winning has a better chance to carry over into the post-season. They rely on fundamentals, speed and pop; the Cardinals relied on getting on base and clutch hitting. The Pirates are younger, stronger, faster and hungrier than the Cardinals. They’re better too.

PREDICTION: PIRATES IN THREE




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Dealing With The Closer Issue

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Complaining about closers is like complaining about the weather: everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. The difference between the weather and closers is that something can be done about closers.

Amid all the talk about “what to do” with struggling relievers Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney and the references of clubs who have found unheralded veterans to take over as their closer like the Cardinals with Edward Mujica and the Pirates with Jason Grilli, no one is addressing the fundamental problems with needing to have an “established” closer. Here they are and what to do about them.

Veteran relievers like to know their roles.

Managers like Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson, Billy Martin and Earl Weaver had the ability to tell their players that their “role” is to pitch when they tell them to pitch. Nowadays even managers who are relatively entrenched in their jobs like Joe Maddon have to have the players on their side to succeed. The Rays are a different story because they’re not paying any of their relievers big money and can interchange them if need be, but they don’t because Maddon doesn’t operate that way until it’s absolutely necessary.

Other clubs don’t have that luxury. They don’t want to upset the applecart and cause a domino effect of people not knowing when they’re going to pitch; not knowing if a pitcher can mentally handle the role of pitching the ninth inning; and don’t want to hear the whining and deal with the aftermath if there’s not someone established to replace the closer who’s having an issue. Rodney was only the Rays’ closer last season because Kyle Farnsworth (a foundling who in 2011 had a career year similar to Rodney in 2012) got hurt.

Until managers have the backing of the front office and have a group of relievers who are just happy to have the job in the big leagues, there’s no escaping the reality of having to placate the players to keep clubhouse harmony.

Stop paying for mediocrity in a replaceable role.

The Phillies and Yankees are paying big money for their closers Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera, but these are the elite at the position. Other clubs who have overpaid for closers include the Dodgers with Brandon League, the Red Sox with money and traded players to get Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, the Nationals with Rafael Soriano, and the Marlins who paid a chunk of Heath Bell’s salary to get him out of the clubhouse.

Bell has taken over for the injured J.J. Putz with the Diamondbacks and pitched well. The Cubs, in desperation, replaced both Carlos Marmol ($9.8 million in 2013) and Kyuji Fujikawa (guaranteed $9.5 million through 2014) with Kevin Gregg. The same Kevin Gregg who was in spring training with the Dodgers and released, signed by the Cubs—for whom he struggled as their closer when they were trying to contend in 2009—as a veteran insurance policy just in case. “Just in case” happened and Gregg has gone unscored upon and saved 6 games in 14 appearances.

As long as teams are paying closers big money, closers will have to stay in the role far longer than performance would dictate in an effort to justify the contract. It’s a vicious circle that teams fall into when they overpay for “established” closers. When the paying stops, so too will the necessity to keep pitching them.

Find a manager who can be flexible.

A manager stops thinking when it gets to the ninth inning by shutting off the logical remnants of his brain to put his closer into the game. If it’s Rivera or Papelbon, this is fine. If it’s anyone else, perhaps it would be wiser to use a lefty specialist if the situation calls for it. If Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are hitting back-to-back and a club has Randy Choate in its bullpen, would it make sense to use a righty whether it’s the ninth inning and “his” inning or not?

Maddon is flexible in his thinking and has the support of the front office to remove Rodney from the role if need be. One option that hasn’t been discussed for the Rays is minor league starter Chris Archer to take over as closer in the second half of the season. With the Rays, anything is possible. With other teams, they not only don’t want to exacerbate the problem by shuffling the entire deck, but the manager is going to panic if he doesn’t have his “ninth inning guy” to close. Even a veteran manager like Jim Leyland isn’t immune to it and a pitcher the front office didn’t want back—Jose Valverde—is now closing again because their handpicked choice Bruce Rondon couldn’t seize his spring training opportunity and the “closer by committee” was on the way to giving Leyland a heart attack, a nervous breakdown or both.

The solution.

There is no solution right now. Until teams make the conscious decision to stop paying relievers upwards of $10 million, there will constantly be the “established” closer. It’s a fundamental fact of business that if there isn’t any money in a job, fewer people who expect to make a lot of money and have the capability to make a lot of money in another position are going to want to take it. Finding replaceable arms who can be used wherever and whenever they’re told to pitch, ignore the save stat, and placed in a situation to be successful instead of how it’s done now will eliminate the need to pay for the ninth inning arm and take all the negative side effects that go along with it. Games will still get blown in the late innings, but at least it won’t be as expensive and will probably happen with an equal frequency. It’s evolution. And evolution doesn’t happen overnight, if it happens at all.

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National League Wild Card Play-In Game Preview—St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves

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The starting pitchers are relatively meaningless in a one-game playoff. What’s most important is how the managers handle said pitchers. Will either wait too long before pulling him? Will one or the other panic and pull him too soon? It’s a fine line between letting the pitcher get a feel for the game and gain his bearings or leaving him in to blow the game up before the fans are in their seats.

This is not going to be totally about Cardinals’ starter Kyle Lohse or Braves’ starter Kris Medlen. It’s going to be about which manager hits the panic button and does something he shouldn’t do. Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny has no post-season managerial experience and Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez is prone to gaffes and knee-jerk decisions to make it look like he’s doing something when he should sit back and wait.

The 34-year-old Lohse went 16-3 during the regular season with excellent on-the-surface numbers across the board, but he benefited from a large amount of luck with a .267 BAbip. He allows a fairly high number of homers (19 this season), and the Braves beat him around in their one game against him on May 30th as Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann took him deep. Lohse has a 5.54 ERA in nine post-season appearances. Matheny is adhering to his starting rotation by keeping Lohse in his turn, but Adam Wainwright is rested and in a one-game playoff, 100 out of 100 times, I’d start Wainwright over Lohse. If Lohse gets into trouble, one would assume that Wainwright would be the first one out of the bullpen, but by then it could be too late. Lohse has had a fine year, but Wainwright has the post-season bona fides that Lohse does not have and Wainwright should be the starter.

Medlen has been masterful since joining the starting rotation at the end of July, displaying a control and intelligence that has been compared to that of Greg Maddux, but with better strikeout stuff. He doesn’t allow many homers and has been masterful beyond the Braves’ wildest imagination. My worry with Medlen would be that he’s too amped up for the start and loses his feel for the strike zone, using the adrenaline to try and blow fastballs past fastball hitters in the Cardinals lineup such as Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and David Freese. The Cardinals also have players who relish the post-season spotlight in Yadier Molina, Freese, and Allen Craig.

The divergent personalities and strategies in the dugout are likely to come into play if either starting pitcher gets into trouble early. Matheny is more likely to stick with Lohse; Gonzalez will have a quicker hook with Medlen and it could be a mistake on both ends.

In a battle of the bullpens, I trust the Braves contingent led by the searing fastball of Craig Kimbrel along with their set-up men than I do that of the Cardinals, whose bullpen has been a recurrent problem. Watch for Edward Mujica’s entrance into the game—he surrendered one homer since joining the Cardinals, but is notoriously homer-prone. In a late, close game, someone’s going to take him deep.

I have little faith in Lohse in spite of his fine season. As long as Gonzalez doesn’t do anything loony such as call for a squeeze play with the bases loaded or something similarly deranged and self-sabotaging, the Braves have too many weapons and the better pitching from start to end.

PREDICTION: BRAVES 7—CARDINALS 2

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1st Round Draft Picks Traded for Middle Relievers is a Bad Move

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One of the more curious trades made on deadline day was the Cardinals sending former 1st round pick Zack Cox to the Marlins for Edward Mujica, a mediocre reliever who has a penchant for giving up lots of home runs. There are many palatable explanations to feed to the hungry public as to why such a deal would be made. With the Cardinals, Cox’s path was blocked at first base by Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter and at third base by David Freese; at 23, Cox is struggling at Triple-A after tearing apart the lower minors; the Cardinals needed help in the bullpen and wanted—for whatever reason—Mujica.

All are legitimate enough. But I’d think a former 1st round pick would bring back more than a homer-prone, journeyman relief pitcher who, bottom line, isn’t that good. There could be issues we don’t know about. Scott Kazmir was traded by the Mets in an atrocious maneuver, in part, because of his attitude. Trading Kazmir wasn’t the mistake the Mets made—pitching coach Rick Peterson wound up being right about Kazmir’s small frame and breakdown potential—but that they traded him for Victor Zambrano.

In today’s game, 1st round draft picks are losing their value and it’s not because they’re not talented, but because teams are more willing to trade them since one of the main reasons 1st round picks get chance after chance is due to the attachment to their names, “1st round pick” and that the clubs no longer have as much money invested in these players. Cox received a $3.2 million, 4-year contract when he was drafted as the 25th overall pick in 2010, including a $2 million bonus. That was relatively in line with the rest of the draft, apart from the Dodgers giving over $5 million to Zach Lee three picks later.

Now things are drastically different in the MLB Draft. The implementation of what amounts to a salary cap with punishments for exceeding the spending limits has rendered nonexistent the leverage of drafted players. That is clearly going to affect how clubs value those high picks and they’ll be more willing to trade them for less than what would be perceptively acceptable to the outsider. With the attention paid to the draft by the newly minted “draftniks” who think they know more than in-the-trenches scouts and experienced GMs, there’s a greater scrutiny placed on what’s done with those picks. When a team like the Nationals or Diamondbacks trades a chunk of their farm system to get a veteran Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill, it’s debated more intensely than when the Red Sox traded Jeff Bagwell (a 4th round pick) for Larry Andersen in late August of 1990. As terribly as that trade is viewed now, the Red Sox weren’t wrong. Bagwell was a very good hitter and back then, the value of on base percentage wasn’t what it is now. He didn’t have any power in the minors and they had Wade Boggs blocking him with Scott Cooper ahead of Bagwell in the minor league pecking order. Anderson posted a 1.23 ERA in 15 relief appearances for the Red Sox and did exactly what they wanted him to do in helping them win their division. Who could’ve looked at Bagwell and expected him to become an MVP, Gold Glove winner, and future Hall of Famer? No one.

The Cox for Mujica isn’t similar to that trade because Andersen was a proven veteran reliever and Cox has shown minor league power that Bagwell never did. Is Cox what he was projected to be when the Cardinals drafted him and paid him so well? Probably not. But he’s 23 and his numbers in the lower minors were bolstered by a high batting average so his on base percentage looked better than it does now even though he’s walking about the same amount of the time. The Marlins got a better third base prospect than the one they gave up, Matt Dominguez, to get Carlos Lee (who they’re going to unload soon), and all they gave up was Mujica, who was a Marlins’ non-tender candidate after this season.

It was a productive deal for the Marlins and a head-scratcher for the Cardinals. With the diminished amount of money spent on high draft picks, we’ll see more of this in the future. While it wasn’t a good thing for players to get repeated passes for poor on-field play and bad off-field behaviors because of draft status and clubs’ fears of being embarrassed by a failed pick, nor is it a good thing that top draft picks are traded for middle relievers. It will happen again and teams are going to regret it because it’s not a smart baseball decision to make.

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What’s Wrong With The Marlins?

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In a sane world, rather than find someone to blame and sacrifice for a poor performance, an organization steeped in common sense and with confidence in their decisionmakers and strategy would look at what’s wrong and try to fix it.

That’s in a sane world.

The world I’m talking about is that of the Miami Marlins and it’s anything but sane.

After today’s loss to the Blue Jays, the Marlins are now 33-38 and, pending the Phillies’ game being played as of this writing, are in last place in the National League East.

It’s a plummet from the heights that owner Jeffrey Loria envisioned in the first year of the new Marlins Park and after the money he spent to import expensive names Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, Carlos Zambrano and manager Ozzie Guillen.

Not only has the team floundered, flipped and flopped on the field, the attendance is 10th out of 16 teams and the empty seats have become more and more noticeable. Judging from their history the fans in Miami and surrounding areas have had other things to do on a warm summer night than to go see the Marlins. That’s been the case whether the team was good or not. With the team playing this brand of uninspiring and disinterested baseball, there’s no reason to go to the park at all.

In some circles, the Marlins were a trendy World Series pick.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t holes and questions.

The starting rotation had Josh Johnson returning from injury and Zambrano, who had worn out his welcome with the Cubs to the point where they paid the majority of his $18 million salary for the Marlins to take him. The bullpen added Bell and, in spite of his declining strikeout numbers and reputation of annoying his bosses, he should’ve been expected to convert the majority of his chances in the negligible save stat. As set-up men they’re using the homer-prone Edward Mujica and a pitcher with a great arm, Steve Cishek, who gives up rockets all over the place whenever I see him pitch. Many times those rockets are hit right at someone making his numbers better than what they should be.

The lineup has been a disappointment and is 12th in the National League in runs scored. Two of their everyday players, John Buck (.165) and Gaby Sanchez (.195) are trapped on the interstate. Reyes has a slash line of .270/.347/.381 with 16 stolen bases. It’s not bad, but not what he was for the Mets in 2011 when he won the batting title and was a phenomenon for much of the season. Hanley Ramirez is hitting better now after a rancid start. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list. Logan Morrison has 7 homers and a .721 OPS.

In the past, the question for Loria has been, “Who can I fire?”

It worked in 2003 when Jeff Torborg was replaced by Jack McKeon. It didn’t work last season when Edwin Rodriguez was replaced by McKeon. Guillen has a 4-year contract at big money and isn’t going anywhere.

This group was Scotch-taped together with big names from the open market without consideration as to gelling and functioning as a unit.

And they’re not functioning as a unit. They don’t put forth the on-field impression that they like each other very much. The Marlins play as if they don’t care; as if they’ve accepted that this is the team, this is their status, and as long as the paychecks are signed and cashable, whatever.

We’re days away from a Loria explosion dutifully filtered through his hatchet man/son-in-law David Samson. It’s generally been Samson who’s been the public face for Loria’s displeasure. That’s coming soon.

One would expect threats and demands will be leaked into the media to express ownserhip’s displeasure. But when does something get done?

A threat is worthless unless it’s carried out in some form and the Marlins under Loria have never been shy to follow through on their threats.

Will they try to trade LoMo? Shake up the bullpen? Or fire someone?

Who is there to fire?

Team President Larry Beinfest has been with the Marlins for a long time and for the most part has done a good job. It wasn’t long ago that he was widely considered one of the best executives in baseball for functioning in that world with Loria and Samson; without money to spend; with the other issues surrounding the club. He still placed a competitive team on the field. This team is a mess. It’s possible that Beinfest wasn’t onboard with the lavish spending spree the club undertook. That’s a dual-edged sword because if that’s the case, he’s expendable.

I doubt that Beinfest will be tossed overboard.

GM Michael Hill is another story. It’s known that Beinfest has been the man running the show and if the Marlins want to do something, firing or demoting Hill would be pretentious and useless, but that’s never mattered to Loria or Samson.

At 33-38 they’re going to do something. It all depends on who winds up in Loria’s crosshairs.

By now, it could be anyone.

The Marlins wanted to make a splash last winter and they did. But that splash is turning into a tsunami and it’s engulfing the club and everything in its path.

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On the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic, We Have the Marlins

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The questions that surrounded the Marlins amid their winter spending spree and afterglow of the completion of their new ballpark were expected to crop up at some point, but no one could’ve predicted that they would start immediately, happen all in a row and risk the season before it began in earnest.

Let’s go down the list. Bear in mind that it’s only April 15th and they haven’t played 10 games yet.

  • The SEC is investigating the financing of the new park—you can read details of how it might go in this SBNation column.
  • Owner Jeffrey Loria was pilloried for using Muhammad Ali to take part in the first pitch ceremony on opening night.
  • Manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended by the team for statements praising Fidel Castro; protests calling for his firing continued regardless of Guillen’s apology.
  • Their on-field issues—a shaky bullpen and terrible defense—have already cost them games.

There are other underlying problems just below the surface. Carlos Zambrano isn’t looking any better on the field in Marlins’ fluorescent glow of blue, red, orange and yellow than he did in Cubbie blue. Josh Johnson and Heath Bell have been awful.

The concerns about Zambrano, Johnson and Bell are overreactions. The Marlins aren’t paying Zambrano anything and can release him if he pitches or behaves poorly—he’s a worthwhile gamble that had as much chance of succeeding as failing. Johnson, if healthy, should be fine. The same argument that says anyone can close also applies to proven closers who are struggling. Bell will begin converting saves.

But the team simply doesn’t look right. They’re not cohesive. They’re a glued together mix of personalities that may not gel before it’s too late, if at all.

Was the Castro gaffe the last thing that Guillen is going to say and do to get himself into a cauldron of simmering Ozzie-juice? History proves it’s not. And if he tones down his personality to prevent himself from getting into trouble, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of hiring him?

Did the Marlins not know that Edward Mujica was prone to the home run ball before installing him as the set-up man? He allowed 28 homers combined for the Padres in 2009 and 2010 and 7 for the Marlins last year. They have a pitchers’ park and leaguewide power numbers are down, but that hasn’t mattered with Mujica.

It takes awhile for teams that have been drastically altered to come together as a unit, but this was a powder keg before the season and it’s a powder keg now with sparks threatening to ignite before May. If they come together and get past the off-field controversies, will that repair their horrific defense and inconsistent bullpen?

In spite of assertions to the contrary, Jose Reyes is only one wrong step away from an extended stay on the disabled list with a hamstring strain or pull; Hanley Ramirez and Zambrano are tempestuous and flighty; and Loria and team president David Samson have high expectations and a massive amount riding on this team and new ballpark being a success.

If they’re at or under .500 by June (or sooner), the fans aren’t going to come to the park and the potential is there for a top-down eruption leading to an every man for himself evacuation.

It’s not a human tragedy on a level with the Titanic, but in a baseball-sense, it’s a burgeoning disaster.

It’s very early, but they’d better change course.

Soon.

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The Marlins: Where Good Vets Go Bad

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Mike Cameron is the second respected veteran the Marlins have—for all intents and purposes—fired for off-field issues.

A month ago, Wes Helms was released as a middleman in the reining in of Logan Morrison; now Cameron was dumped for the wide-ranging and unexplained “conduct detrimental to the team”.

No other details have been disclosed as to what Cameron did to warrant a release with two weeks left in the season; it’s generally a courtesy that players like Cameron will be allowed to retire gracefully rather than endure this.

By this I mean a story that’s going to metastasize until both sides are heard as to what really happened.

Since the Marlins have yet to explain, here’s some speculation from mein own head:

He was spending too much pre-game time on MySpace.

LoMo got into trouble with the organization for his candor and overuse of Twitter and was sent down to get him in line. I agreed with the move; LoMo needs to understand that he’s not a veteran on the club; he’s basically subject to the whims of the front office and has to be subservient while he’s laying the foundation to his career. Was Cameron MySpacing too much? Was his elder statesman status extending to the dying MySpace?

He failed to bow in a courtly manner to David Samson.

Perhaps the notoriously touchy team president Samson (son-in-law to owner Jeffrey Loria) wasn’t treated with the proper reverence by the veteran center fielder; he ran and told his daddy-in-law and Loria released him immediately to show Cameron and the rest of the organization who the boss is.

He’s somehow responsible for Josh Johnson‘s shoulder injury.

Johnson needing Tommy John surgery in 2006 was lain at the feet of former manager Joe Girardi for reinserting Johnson in a game against the Mets after an hourlong rain delay.

Of course it’s ridiculous, but these are the Marlins.

He was unable to converse intelligently with manager Jack McKeon on the presidency of Herbert Hoover.

McKeon’s 146-years-old; Cameron’s 39. What did they expect from the guy in terms of an oral history?

I’m only partially kidding.

I have no idea who leaked the story that Cameron was released because of intra-team issues, but why was it necessary? What could he possibly have done to inspire the club to embarrass him in this way just as he’s hinting at retirement in the final two weeks of the season?

Unless he did something totally out of character for a player who’s been respected and liked everywhere he’s been (and he’s a journeyman’s journeyman), what was the point?

I was totally on-board with both the releasing of Helms and the demotion of LoMo. If Helms—who wasn’t contributing on the field—was advising Morrison to blow off team functions and Morrison listened to the harebrained advice, the Marlins were well within their rights as employers to punish both men for it.

But this?

I don’t want to comment directly because it’s quite possible that Cameron did do something to warrant being released for conduct detrimental. It’s hard to believe, but possible.

Regarding the Marlins organization itself, I’ve long been an admirer of the way they’ve run their franchise. As much as Loria is called one of the worst owners in sports, to me he’s run the team as a successful business. He won the World Series in 2003; he’s decisive way in changing managers if he deems it necessary; the team wins within a budget and is profitable; he’s aggressive when the opportunity to win is there; and he’s getting a new ballpark with public funding.

This is a smart businessman.

However, going back to last winter, the Marlins betrayed much of what made me admire them.

They altered their strategy by spending capriciously on a mediocre catcher in John Buck; they shunned their bullpen-building practice by trading for veterans Ryan Webb, Edward Mujica and Michael Dunn in an opposite manner than what they’ve been successful with in the past of finding a load of young and/or cheap arms and patching a bullpen together; they made a rushed and stupid trade in dumping Dan Uggla on the Braves for two players you can find everywhere, Omar Infante and Dunn; and now it’s being said that Loria and Samson are going to take a more active role in the construction of the team.

That’s a questionable strategy considering the smart baseball people they have in place with Larry Beinfest leading the way.

Before there was a haphazard sense of urgency that the team was expected to win independent of obstacles.

The dysfunction was part of the function.

And it worked.

But now they’re veering into a direction that is concerning and the Cameron release adds another ingredient to the toxic brew that has sabotaged a club that has a lot of talent, is underachieving and seemingly blowing up from the inside.

It’s not good.

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