Say this much for the Miami Marlins—they know how to time a meltdown. With their city celebrating its NBA coronation, baseball is going to be an afterthought and there’s never been a better time for Ozzie Guillen’s team to be away from the public eye. The Marlins have gone from being right on the heels of Washington in the NL East to having a 33-38 record coming into Sunday’s games and staring up at the rest of their division.
Miami’s got its share of hitting problems right now. While Jose Reyes is swinging a good bat, the same can’t be said for Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton. Ramirez in particular has seen his fortunes track that of the team, from a bad start to a solid May and back to awful again. Gaby Sanchez, who was apparently concerned that the new and bigger ballpark the Marlins got would hurt his numbers in an arbitration year, now has bigger problems on his mind. His performance continues to be so poor that no park effect theory can possibly justify it and Miami will not achieve its full potential offensively without him. The lineup is struggling enough that the team’s second-best player has been backup outfielder Justin Ruggiano. Given a chance to play with a hand injury too Emilio Bonifacio, Ruggiano has a .444 OBP/.744 slugging percentage for his stat line. But when a 30-year-old backup with 195 career at-bats coming into the season is your second-best player you’ve got problems.
The hitting might be in a slump, but the pitching has been positively awful as the rotation has flipped from its early season performance. Back then, Josh Johnson was struggling, while the other four starters mostly pitched well. Now it’s Johnson who has a 1.95 ERA in his four starts for June, while his colleagues are in the tank. Mark Buehrle is at 5.48 for the month, Ricky Nolasco at 7.66, Carlos Zambrano with a 7.94 number and Anibal Sanchez’s June ERA a bloated 8.06. Then factor in the top four setup relievers in terms of innings have ERAs for the month in the 6s or 7s. Even if closer Heath Bell is back in form, having closed four save chances without giving up a run, a closer doesn’t help much when you can’t hit, can’t get starting pitching and have no bridge to the ninth inning.
We should note that Miami’s schedule has not been a cakewalk. They opened June by winning a series in Philadelphia and their record hit 31-23. Then came consecutive sweeps at home by Atlanta and Tampa. After winning the opener at home against Boston, they lost the next two and the series. Miami lost two of three in Tampa, was swept in Boston and has dropped the first two of this weekend’s series against Toronto. All of these are winning teams, but we also have to note that the Blue Jays had been struggling of late, and while the Red Sox are playing good ball overall, how much of that is them and how much of that is the fact they played the Marlins six times?
Perhaps it’s Miami then that’s the cause of good fortunes in Boston, which leads us over to the American League and a brief check-in on the Red Sox. They’re at 37-34 and tied with Toronto for fourth, as all five AL East teams are over .500. Boston is in reasonable striking distance of New York at 5.5 back, and more importantly they’re only 1.5 games back of Tampa Bay, who would be the last wild-card if the season ended today. Help is on the way, with Carl Crawford rehabbing and expected back in mid-July and Jacoby Ellsbury’s return moved up a couple weeks and now possible in the early part of next month.
Clay Bucholz’s pitching is the biggest thing that strikes you in evaluating Boston’s recent form. With a 2.40 ERA in his last four starts and gradual improvement after an awful start, it seems safe to say the patient is back to full health. Bucholz returned after missing the entire second half of 2011 with a broken back and while his body may have been healthy this year, I think it quite likely it took him some time to regain comfort with his mechanics after an injury like that. In the meantime, Boston’s everyday lineup has been electrified by the kids, left fielder Daniel Nava who’s got an .500 OBP this month and his .563 slugging percentage comes without a home run—with seven doubles, the lefty hitter is learning to play with the Green Monster. Middlebrooks has a .415/.617 line for the month and the rookie third baseman has made the trading of Kevin Youkilis look not only likely, but imminent.
A quick glance around the rest of baseball…
*I’ve said this in previous division reports, but keep an eye on Kansas City. At 31-38, it’s taking the AL Central to keep them in contention, and they desperately need pitching help. But this team’s got some hitters and they’re only 5.5 back after a bad start.
*Texas has re-heated up and is holding steady with a five-game lead over Los Angeles in the AL West. The Rangers also re-passed by the Yankees for the top record in the AL West , and have started integrating Roy Oswalt into their rotation.
*With Miami collapsing, New York has moved into the breach and those pesky Mets are 39-33 and only three back of Washington in the NL East. Atlanta is hanging tough, although the loss of staff ace Brandon Beachy for the year was a devastating blow that I don’t think they can recover from.
*How is it that Milwaukee Brewers, with injuries galore and most of the team struggling is managing to stay in striking distance. Like Kansas City in the American League, the Brewers are in the right division, as their 33-38 record has them within 6.5 games of the NL Central lead, but they’re only 5.5 back of the wild-card. How about a thumbs-up for Ryan Braun, who’s been even more valuable this year than he was a year ago.
*On my weekly Monday podcast at Prime Sports Network with Greg DePalma, he and I both have been insisting that Arizona has a push in them. Don’t look now, but the Diamondbacks are within 6.5 of Los Angeles, who has already peaked, and within 3.5 of San Francisco, who leads the NL wild-card race. The Diamondbacks have survived injuries and a devastating hot streak by a division rival and are still breathing…and the season’s not even halfway done.