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Marlins In the Swim in Miami

The two biggest spenders during the recent off-season were the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and (my bad) Miami Marlins of Little Havana. The Angels, after almost a decade of success, had been eclipsed by the ascendant Texas Rangers in 2010 and 2011; the Marlins, who won their second World Series in just eleven years of existence in 2003, had languished but thanks to good drafting and with the specter of a new, shiny ballpark replacing their desultory home in a football stadium, their payroll ballooned thanks to several high-profile free agent signings.

Last week we discussed the Angels and their woes principally the disappointing performance of the top prize in the market, Albert Pujols. The good news is that this past week Phat Albert finally hit his first home run of the season, after a career-worst 110 at-bat drought; the bad news is that The Machine is still broken, with a paltry .192 batting average and an anemic .505 On-base Plus Slugging (OPS).

For the Marlins, much more was changing than for the Angels. The Marlins, in gratitude to the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County who gifted them with a sparkling $640 million stadium complete with retractable roof and all kinds of unusual features including what looks like Carmen Miranda’s hat in center field, changed their name from Florida to Miami. They went out and used some of the revenue-sharing largesse they received from MLB Big Dogs to sign short stop Jose Reyes of the Mets, the 2011 National League batting champion, durable left-handed starter Mark Buerhle from the White Sox, and dreadnought closer Heath Bell from the Padres. Plus they “traded” for White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a former Marlins coach with a ring from their 2003 World Series Championship team.

Buerhle has been himself but has pitched in tough luck as he is 2-4 but with a good ERA of 2.81 and an acceptable Walks-Hits-Innings Pitched average (WHIP) of 1.146. Reyes has been a disappointment so far, with a .234 batting average and .658 OPS, and Bell has been downright awful, 1-3 and 4 blown saves in 7 chances with a horrific 9.28 ERA and 2.438 WHIP. If the Marlins wanted to fix the back end of their bullpen, they haven’t done it yet.

Match this with Ozzie Guillen’s unfortunate remarks about his admiration of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro which led to a torrent of controversy, and you have a rocky beginning to what was hoped to be a breakthrough season. Ozzie, who has no meter on his mouth, apologized but the damage was done.

Still, the Marlins have kept themselves in the thick of what promises to be a tight NL East race, and their attendance, while not gangbusters, is much improved from last season when they were 28th in MLB and last in the NL. They have risen to 14th overall and 8th out of 16 in the NL.

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