Before the season began, the Miami Marlins looked like a team that was going to be a big-time contender. In fact, this author picked them to win the World Series.
Now at the break, the anticipated great year with the new stadium and sky-high expectations is staring at a stunning sub-.500 record.
There have been many culprits for the disappointing first half, but none have been worse than Heath Bell. The closer's first half has been reminiscent of Armando Benitez tormenting Mets and Giants fans or Brad Lidge's horrifying 2009 campaign.
The question would be: Who would replace Bell as a closer? The Marlins do not have an experienced closer waiting in the wings.
Well, Guillen has already weathered a similar storm in his career and it made his reputation as a manager.
Going into 2005, the White Sox had Shingo Takatsu as their closer. But he pitched horribly the first half of the season, sporting a 5.97 ERA in July and only eight saves. Guillen removed him from the closer role and eventually the team released him.
Instead, he inserted Dustin Hermansen, who had half a season of closer experience, into the main reliever role. He responded with 34 saves and a 2.04 ERA.
But Guillen also would mix and match pitchers. Neal Cotts and Damaso Marte would finish games. Cliff Politte and Luis Vizcaino would pitch in key situations. And if the game called for it, he would let the starter finish.
Hermansen got hurt and, for the second time that year, the White Sox lost their nominal closer. Eventually, Bobby Jenks, who began the 2005 season in Double A ball, was given a shot to close. And most teams were facing him for the first time, with Jenks getting the upper hand.
By the time the postseason came around, Guillen got clutch relief performances from Jenks and company. Plus, he got unlikely lockdown bullpen efforts from starters El Duque Hernandez and Mark Buehrle, who saved Game 3 of the World Series.
And he also stretched the starters to four straight complete-game victories in the ALCS against the Angels. The result of mixing and matching starters, middle relievers and untested closers? The White Sox won the World Series.
Guillen can learn from his own terrific managerial performance. Instead of worrying about which one pitcher will throw the ninth inning, pitch to the situation.
Perhaps a young pitcher like Steve Cishek can pitch if the situation is right. Maybe Wade LeBlanc, who has pitched well so far, can throw. Or Randy Choate.
Maybe more starters can go deep or maybe one can come out of the pen.
Guillen has shown he can pitch to the situation before. Time to show Miami he can do it again.
Yes, Bell is being paid big bucks. Guillen is as well.
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