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Posted at 04:42 PM ET, 06/29/2012

Big-spending, new-look Miami Marlins continue to struggle


Jose Reyes of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 26. (Mike Ehrmann - GETTY IMAGES)
How could this team fail? They debuted a new $634-million stadium with a retractable roof this season, so there’s buzz and excitement. They spent truckloads of cash to bring in big-name free agents, vaulting a traditionally low-spending team to the seventh-largest payroll in baseball. They changed their name and re-branded themselves. Yet, the Miami Marlins sit at 35-40 and fourth in the National League East.

They look nothing now like the team that welcomed the first-place Nationals in late May, swept them and narrowed their deficit in the standings to a half game when they left town. Instead, they’re a team seemingly in disarray, following a 21-win May with a dismal 6-18 stretch in June. They haven’t won a series since the first week of the month against the Phillies.

Last week, Manager Ozzie Guillen put it very bluntly: “Right now, we should be embarrassed.” Before Tuesday’s game, following an extra-inning loss to the Cardinals, Guillen even admitted he was ready to erupt on his team if their puzzling on-the-field performance continues: “They make me miserable, I will make them miserable, too.”

Even owner Jeffrey Loria, after a sleepless night following a 15-5 thumping at the hands of the Red Sox, called a team meeting. A recent gathering featured front office executives who are often roving the country. In the past week, the team has had three separate meetings, including a players-only gathering following a 7-1 home loss to the Blue Jays.

And it’s not that the team doesn’t have the parts to win, it’s just that they haven’t done so. Shortstop Jose Reyes, a $106-million offseason acquisition, attributed the team’s slump to a total lack of energy and effort.

For a lineup that features former all-stars in Reyes, third baseman Hanley Ramirez, first baseman Gaby Sanchez, second baseman Omar Infante, catcher John Buck and one of the game’s best young power hitters, Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins are among the lowest-scoring offenses in the majors – even lower than the Nationals.

And the pitching staff, despite its big offseason splashes, has been largely mediocre. That’s no fault of the starters, who are in the top half of the majors in earned-run average. Veteran left-hander Mark Buerhle, a free-agent signing who has pitched at least 200 innings for the past 11 seasons and sports a 3.82 career earned-run average, has been his usual, steady and workhorse-self. Starters Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson and Carlos Zambrano have largely been effective, all with sub-4.00 ERAs.

It’s the bullpen that has been a disaster. They’re the second-worst, in terms of ERA, in the majors. Free-agent signing closer Heath Bell, one of the game’s best in the past few seasons, has imploded, blowing four saves in 19 chances and carrying a 6.35 ERA as of Friday. Of the six Marlins relievers with at least 20 innings pitched, four have earned run averages over 4.50.

If the Marlins’ hitting and bullpen continue at this pace, their hopes of competing in the NL East this season will grow bleaker. It will be interesting to watch what happens with Guillen, who endured his own controversy earlier this season, his coaching staff and the players as the season progresses.

By  |  04:42 PM ET, 06/29/2012

 
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