6 Reasons Why the Florida Marlins Will Make the Playoffs in 2012
At this time, it seems nearly impossible for your Florida Marlins to push for the Wild Card. The Fish are currently mired in the midst of a six game losing streak with no foreseeable end in sight. Every night there seems to be the threat of a rain out.
However, our future does not resemble the bleakness of this weather. With a young core, a new stadium and GM Michael Hill's assurance that the front office will be players at this year's winter meetings, there is a definite possibility that this team with improve enough to compete for a Wild Card spot, if not the division, given the aging Phillies sliding.
Hanley Ramirez MUST Return to Form
When healthy and committed, Hanley Ramirez is a legitimate 30-30 threat with the ability to create the big play at the plate or in the field. Many, however, view Hanley as a clubhouse cancer. His gripes with former manager Fredi Gonzalez and his perceived over-willingness to sit and relax due to injury have caused an outcry.
His season has been by far the worst of his career, and if he were to be shipped to another team during the winter meetings, the return could be far worse than the front office would have hoped for. What if he returns to form by the trade deadline and he is traded at his highest stock? Perhaps then there is a chance we gamble and keep him. If the Yankees lose out on the 2011 Jose Reyes sweepstakes (or he returns to his injury plagued ways) then you bet they would be more than willing to overpay in the form of top prospects for a solid Hanley. These young guns could be ready to go sooner than expected.
Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison Will Combine for 60 Home Runs
It is no secret to anyone who has talked Marlins baseball with me that Mike Stanton is far and beyond my favorite player ever to don a Marlins uniform. This is coming from a person who was at Opening Day 1993, Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, seven opening days and hundreds of games. I find it easy to believe that by the end of his tenure with the Marlins Big Mike will have a lot more fans like myself as well. Both are figuring out how to navigate a major league outfield with Logan Morrison having to make many adjustments from his Minor League stay at first base. Stanton has shown his gun but could take better angles at fly balls.
Most importantly, Stanton will be playing in a park with cooler, thinner air. The shorter fences and invigorating atmosphere will keep the balls sailing. Morrison will undoubtedly enjoy the same luxuries. Aside from the ballpark luxuries, another year under their belts will add to their plate disciplines. Mike Stanton has walked an exorbitant amount in the last week. Whether that is a product of the fear of pitchers or patience has yet to be seen, but Stanton should expand positively in every baseball stat imaginable.
Josh Johnson Will Be Healthy
Following Tommy John Surgery, JJ asserted himself as one of the finest pitchers in all of baseball. A lot of fans believe that his back injury that caused him to miss last season was merely a cop out. This is not uncommon; star players often fake injuries if the season is hopeless.
Johnson's big, hefty frame may hurt his injury resistance, but when healthy the ace has an electric fastball, a nasty slider, a go-to changeup and now a slow curve to add to the armament. His implementation of the curve was his first truly slow pitch, leaving opposing hitters guessing when he would go from 96 to 75 mph and expose their weakness. It is important that JJ uses this time to condition his figure in a fitness regimen to prevent injury. If he carries himself through the full season, a guaranteed win each time he takes the mound is almost always going to be the case.
The Numerous Benefits of a New Stadium
Forget the fact that there will no longer be any pesky rain delays. Forget the fact that the heat will never stifle Doc Halladay's precious sweat glands. Forget about how far Mike Stanton's hits will fly in this new building. The biggest revelation that this ballpark brings to the Marlins is the impact it has on the fans. I have spoken over the years with thousands of fans who would do anything to see their Marlins win but come to the stadium with enough sustenance to trek the Sahara. The water bottles are over $5, and it makes it impossible to stay hydrated when sweat pours from your body faster than you can put it back in. Thousands of potential fans have been unable to bear the heat, and in a football style stadium the seating not only does not have the up close intimacy that places like the infield boxes at Yankee Stadium or the right field short fence at Fenway have, but this architecture creates a literal sauna. Finally the front office fought hard for a new stadium, preferring their fans to be happy, not broiled.
Add to that its convenient location in the midst of Little Havana (sadly, the Orange Bowl which had so many memories for me had to be a necessary casualty) and there immediately is a massive untapped fan base of Cuban locals within walking distance. The goal is to expand from the average night of 19,000 fans to 25,000 fans. This is no small task, but with an increased local identity, air conditioning and a guarantee of improved play, the possibility is there.
The Front Office Committing to Being Buyers in the Winter Meetings
The laundry list of free agents this winter resembles that of the 2010 NBA. Despite the incredible star power at all positions (Pujols anybody?) there is also a gratuitous amount of supplementary talent to acquire for decent asking prices. The Marlins have holes to fill at center field (if Chris Coghlan cannot improve), 3rd base (precipitating a move for Bonifacio to the OF) and of course the omnipresent necessity of good pitching. Add to that the potential trade bait in Leo Nunez, Randy Choate, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Hanley Ramirez, and the Fish could be big winners. All six of these players are absolute necessities to the team, but if a starting pitcher is traded to a big market team for excellent AAA prospects, or Choate is dealt to the Yankees who have inquired about his services, the Marlins could have excellent pieces in place for an imminent run.
These Marlins have an emerging lead-off star in Emilio Bonifacio, who has hit safely in nearly every game since his streak of 26 was snapped. Omar Infante will return from injury after scorching NL pitching in July and early August. Surely able to keep up this form, his later efforts in the season merely a microcosm of his acclimation to Miami. John Buck is heating up, learning the ropes of NL pitching. Florida has quite a few full time starters in their first year and their hard work is beginning to show as they begin to catch heat.
The Marlins are a piece or two short of serious playoff implications.
An Expected Big Name Coach Will Sign in Miami
There are few ways to win over a fan base without bringing in a big name player. Jack McKeon's re-insertion as Interim Head Coach was quite brilliant as it invigorated the Marlins on the field and the fans in the seats. Sure the man can Coach, he can motivate and he can puff a cigar like Castro, but he is 80 years old. Coaching in any game is stressful, and it is unsure how McKeon will be for the long haul.
For many, that young, fiery, savvy guy that everyone has been looking for is Ozzie Guillen. Guillen has a reputation that is nothing short of divisive. There are those who despise his outspokenness, and others who praise Ozzie for his brutally honest nature and desire to win at all costs. Ozzie has a past history with the Marlins, managing third base in 2003, navigating the runway for speedsters like Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo. Add to the credibility of his Marlins past an identifiable Latino background, skillful management and Jack McKeon's endorsement as his replacement and the Marlins have a definitive option to lead them to glory.