Miami Marlins: 5 Keys to Climbing out of the NL East Basement in 2012
Yes, the Nationals and not the struggling Philadelphia Phillies, who most thought would lead the division from start to finish.
The NL East through the first few weeks of the season have been anything but expected.
There are many factors as to why the Marlins have been struggling thus far this season.
Here are five keys to climbing out of the NL East basement for the Miami Marlins.
Josh Johnson Needs to Step Up
Josh Johnson is the most vital player for the Marlins to succeed this season.
Beyond all the glamor and attention the team received for signing Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and bringing in Ozzie Guillen, Johnson is the ace of the Marlins pitching staff and the most important player the team has.
Johnson has dealt with numerous injuries for the majority of his young career, but showed brilliance in his nine starts last season. The team had high hopes coming into the new season and Johnson has struggled thus far with an 0-3 record and a measly 5.34 ERA.
In the starts that Johnson has thrived, the Marlins have not given him run support. He has a combined 17 strikeouts in his last two starts which gives Miami fans some sign of hope.
If Johnson can continue to improve, stay healthy and receive more offensive help from his teammates as the season continues, the Marlins can certainly turn things around.
Heath Bell Has to Meet Expectations
Heath Bell has been by far the biggest letdown of the 2012 season for Miami.
After signing to a three-year, $27 million contract, Bell nearly has as many blown saves this year (three) then he did all of last season with the Padres (five).
Bell has struggled on all accounts and needs to be the player the Marlins hoped he would be when they signed him this offseason.
Many are starting to wonder if the 34-year-old Bell had his best years behind him.
There were many doubts when Miami offered him such a costly contract if he would be worth the risk.
If Bell can settle into his role with his new team, he should be a key component for the Marlins to win later on in the season.
Offense Must Score More Runs
The combination of speed and power the Marlins lineup was projected to produce would have rivaled anyone in the league.
The formula looked great on paper, with Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio at the top of the lineup. Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison could provide power in the middle of the order rounded off by former All-Star players Gaby Sanchez and Omar Infante.
Instead, the Marlins rank near the bottom of the league in almost every offensive category—28th in runs, 27th in batting average and 24th in the league in slugging percentage.
Manager Ozzie Guillen has tried frantically to shift the order to stir things up, by moving Reyes to second and Stanton down to the sixth spot.
There's still no doubt the Marlins have plenty of potential to turn things around.
If Reyes can raise his batting average to anything close to the .337 he achieved last year while winning the NL batting title and if Ramirez could find a way to bounce back to the offensive numbers he produced in 2010, Miami will be in good shape.
Who would have predicted that it would have taken Giancarlo Stanton 21 games to hit his first HR of the season?
Ozzie Guillen Needs to Gain Control of the Locker Room
When the Marlins hired Ozzie Guillen to lead their organization into the new Miami era, they wanted an outspoken leader. Nobody quite envisioned Ozzie to be as blunt as he turned out to be within the first few games.
Guillen not only lost control of his words but also the locker room.
He was suspended for his comments regarding Fidel Castro just a few games into this season, destroying any sort of preseason chemistry Guillen and his players had.
Now, Guillen is trying to pick up the pieces and move forward after his horrific public relations blunder. With the Marlins currently sitting in last place, Ozzie understands the pressure that's surmounting each and every day from Miami fans.
It's more important than ever Guillen takes control of the Marlins locker room and lead the team to the position many believe they can be. He's a World Series-winning manager who has loads of talent and supportive ownership willing to do whatever it takes to win.
A Continued Impressive Start from Infante and Morrison
One of the few positive stories surrounding the Marlins so far this season is the impressive start from both Omar Infante and Logan Morrison.
While most of the Marlins lineup is struggling to find their swing, Infante and Morrison have shown early promise.
Infante leads the team with a .308 batting average and five home runs. Morrison has a notable .290 batting average and has seemingly bounced back from a disappointing season last year in which he spent time in the minors.
It seems like it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the star-driven lineup catches up to Infante and Morrison's early offensive production.
When the offense finally finds its rhythm, it will be interesting to see what sort of climb the Marlins can make in the NL East. Luckily for them, it's still early enough in the season for the team to shake off the rust and play at the level most expected them to be at.