The Miami Marlins ended the month of May as one of the hottest teams in the league—finishing with a 21-8 record.
Things have changed for the team after losing losing six straight home games to the Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays. The Marlins are now 32-30 and find themselves six games behind the first-place Washington Nationals in the NL East division.
Many have to stop and think, what happened?
The team has certainly seen their ups and downs in this early season. Between the hot-starts from Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton and the struggles of Heath Bell and Gaby Sanchez—Miami needs all of their players performing at the top level to make a run at the postseason.
Here are five struggling players that are key to a Miami Marlins division title.
Gaby Sanchez was the only Marlins All-Star in 2011. As a homegrown Miami star, Sanchez was nearly replaced this offseason when the Marlins courted free-agent Albert Pujols to come to Miami.
After all was said and done, Pujols spurned the Marlins for the Angels and left Sanchez in somewhat of an awkward position.
Manager Ozzie Guillen started Sanchez in hopes that he could return to All-Star form but has struggled to reach a .200 AVG—currently hitting .195—with only one home run and 13 RBI. Certainly not the start the Marlins hoped for coming into this season, and not the kind of performance they need to make a run at the playoffs.
There was a gaping hole at 1B when the team sent Gaby down to the minors. Guillen tried his void with reserve players, but the position naturally belonged to Sanchez.
Sanchez has to rebound from his recent demotion to Triple-A in New Orleans. Miami needs another quality bat in the lineup and that's what Gaby Sanchez brings when he's at his best.
Josh Johnson currently has a 4-4 record with a 4.27 ERA.
Normally, one could argue those stats are relatively good. That is not the case for Johnson, who many felt before the season had a real chance at competing for the NL Cy Young.
Johnson has shown signs of brilliance throughout his entire career but just could never stay healthy.
His best season came in 2009 when he went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA and was followed by another strong season in 2010. Since then he has struggled immensely to stay healthy.
In what could have been his most dominating year yet, his season was cut short in 2011. He managed a 3-1 record with an incredible 1.64 ERA.
He's had some great support from the rest of his pitching staff to start the season and we all know the dominance he is capable of. In his first six starts this season, Johnson went 0-3 with a 6.61 ERA while certainly turning things around in his last seven starts going 4-1 and a 2.70 ERA.
The Miami Marlins can only hope this trend continues for the rest of the year.
Heath Bell came to Miami with high expectations and very heavily paid thanks to a nice free-agent contract.
Bell was dreadful to start he season and lost his starting job for a little while until manager Ozzie Guillen felt it was right for him to reclaim it.
He cost the team some wins with his early season blown saves which hopefully wont come back to hurt them later on.
After losing the trust of many Marlins fans, Bell has been able to record six saves in his last seven outings. His ERA has dropped from 8.47 to 6.08 in that same stretch which is still nothing to brag about.
Bell is another important piece the Marlins need to have in order to get back in this division race. He must continue to prove that he is the player that the Marlins front office thought he was when they pursued him this offseason.
A Miami fan favorite, "LoMo" has underachieved so far this season.
Morrison was part of the youth movement this season that featured both himself and Giancarlo Stanton in the Marlins' outfield.
He's hitting .235 AVG and is on pace to hit just 13 HR and 44 RBI when the season is done.
Meanwhile, Giancarlo Stanton has been hitting on all cylinders and is an early favorite in this year's Home Run Derby.
He was asked to cover for Gaby Sanchez which didn't really result well with Morrison. He struggled at the plate during that time and his defense suffered as well.
Now with Sanchez back in the lineup, he is starting to show some impressive offensive numbers. The organization wants to see Logan Morrison succeed and continue to develop to hopefully build around for years to come.
This season, Morrison can earn his way into the hearts of many fans if he can help turn things around and get this team into contention.
John Back has flat-out underperformed since he signed with the Marlins as a free agent.
Many saw this coming after having a career year in Toronto in 2010. He hasn't played the way the team envisioned him playing when they gave him the deal. Furthermore, he's on track to have an even worse statistical year this season.
Buck is hitting a pathetic .163 AVG right now which is simply unacceptable.
You could have blamed his lack of performance last year on the fact that the Marlins played in terribly hot weather each and every day back when they played their home games outdoors at the stadium they shared with the Miami Dolphins. Sure, that can take a toll on a catcher.
That can't be said for this season, as he now gets to play in a beautiful new state-of-the-art ballpark that has air conditioning and a retractable roof.
The Marlins don't need Buck to be the type of player he was in Toronto. What they do need is his veteran leadership traits, especially when it comes to helping their already talented pitching staff.