Cardinals vs. Marlins: Fish Face 1st of Many Challenges on Opening Day

Mike Shiekman@TheRealShiekFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2012

Cardinals vs. Marlins: Fish Face 1st of Many Challenges on Opening Day

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    Opening Day for the Miami Marlins will be a precursor to how good this team can be in 2012.

    Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton, among others, will have a chance to showcase their talents on national television against the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

    How Ozzie Guillen’s bunch handle their first test will be under the microscope. Here are a several indicators of how the Marlins first season in Miami will end up.

Will Hanley Ramirez Bounce Back?

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    A prime bounce-back candidate this season, Hanley Ramirez’s return to stardom may just dictate if this team can be playing meaningful games in October. 

    His numbers in 2010 didn’t just disappoint the baseball world, they startled them. His average dipped almost 80 points from the previous season, not to mention career lows in every major statistic category, from runs to OBP. His production last season was so troubling that it ultimately alienated him from his teammates by season’s end.

    Ramirez’s spring numbers have been encouraging a return to his 2009 form in which he finished second in the NL MVP voting. Hitting cleanup behind speedsters Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio should give him plenty of RBI opportunities early and often. In addition, let's not forget Giancarlo Stanton and Gaby Sanchez behind him to bring him home.

How Will Ozzie Guillen Use Jose Reyes?

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    This query won’t be answered until Game 162, but Jose Reyes may be the most critical to the Marlins' success (and their payroll).

    Reyes was a showstopper last season in New York, winning the batting title and played enough games to earn him a hefty contract in Miami. This season, though, he’s no longer in a contract year—now, he's motivated by playoff hopes and an animated Ozzie Guillen.

    But will Ozzie Guillen continue his aggressive stealing ways with Reyes knowing his injury history? Reyes may be the most electrifying player in baseball, but even the best have their limits. Reyes hasn't exactly been a lock for 162 games, let alone 140. It will be an interesting storyline to follow.

Can Josh Johnson Be Miami's Healthy and Reliable Ace?

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    Josh Johnson is the Marlins' ace on paper and will take the mound tonight against Kyle Lohse.

    Questions about his durability, though, have been piling up since Johnson had to shut it down last season after only nine starts. The concerns are warranted; in his seven pro seasons, Johnson has only thrown over 90 innings in three of them.

    His spring training has been hopeful, noted to be throwing between 91 and 96 MPH in multiple outings. He’ll get the opening start in the new stadium, and a strong performance will not only be a fitting way to start the new era in Miami, but get Johnson back in the pitching business.

How Will Ramirez Translate to Third Base?

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    After all the rumors about Hanley Ramirez being unwilling to move to third, he seems to have made a fluid switch to the position. The Marlins’ coaches have raved about how he has embraced the switch.

    With Opening Day upon us, however, feelings are now secondary to what happens in the field of play. Whether Hanley is willing stretch out for grounder rolling down the left field line is a whole other conundrum.

    Alex Rodriguez had no trouble switching to third base to accommodate Derek Jeter, minus a few New York Post headlines. Then again, Rodriguez was a Gold Glove winner as a shortstop.

    Hanley might not be that highly regarded as a fielder, but that’s why the Marlins’ management brought in Ozzie Guillen: to keep Miami’s stars hungry.