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Yesterday, I talked about the long winning streaks assembled by the Braves
and Mets. The Mets stretched theirs to eight games Monday by beating the
Dodgers 1-0, while the Braves had the day off. But even with that success,
neither team is the best story in the division.

The best story in the division is the Florida Marlins, who are 13-8 as you
read this. The laughingstock, owner-stripped, first-to-worst Florida
Marlins are at their highest point since winning the 1997 World Series.
After that championship, of course, then-owner Wayne Huizenga tore the team
apart, insisting he had lost and would continue to lose money–a dubious
claim at best–and eventually sold the team.

While 1998 and 1999 were difficult seasons for the franchise, the forced
divestiture of high- and medium-salaried players did bring in a ton of
younger talent, particularly pitching talent. The Marlins have, by far, the
youngest everyday lineup in the majors, with no starter over 28, and a
nearly no-name pitching staff that has the second-best ERA in the league.
Behind nominal ace and probable trade bait Alex Fernandez, the Fish
have their future ace, Brad Penny, with a 3.42 ERA and a better than
3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. Ryan Dempster is picking up where he
left off in the second half of 1999, striking out more than a man an inning
with an ERA of 3.38. These two pitchers should be the base on which the
Marlins build their next championship team.

Their offense is led by OBP machine second baseman Luis Castillo,
currently on the disabled list with a lower back strain. Behind Castillo,
the Marlins have a number of mid-range hitters, like third baseman Mike
Lowell
and left fielder Cliff Floyd. Currently, the Marlins are
eighth in the NL in runs scored, due to their #15 rank in slugging
percentage. The team does not have hitting at either the major- or
minor-league level to match their pitchers, and in fact, seems to
specialize in low-OBP, high-tool players. In the long-term, they will need
to either import or develop people to build a lineup around.

In the short term, the Marlins shouldn’t expect to be the 1999 Reds or A’s.
A crucial part of their early season success has been the effectiveness of
their bullpen. They’ve posted an ERA of 1.99, and have been essential to
the Marlins’ 9-5 record in games decided by one or two runs. Unfortunately,
that performance is a house built on sand:

Pitcher             ERA     IP   K   BB
Ricky Bones        0.00   12.2   4    8
Braden Looper      1.54   11.2   5    1
Armando Almanza    1.59    5.2   4    7
Dan Miceli         1.59   11.1  15    3
Vic Darensbourg    3.18    5.2   6    5
Antonio Alfonseca  4.50   12.0   9    4

That’s 43 strikeouts and 28 walks, which is a so-so ratio. Take Dan
Miceli
away, and the rest of the pen is right around even. That’s not
going to lead to a 1.99 ERA over the course of the season. At some point,
Ricky Bones is going to fall to earth, and Braden Looper is
either going to develop an out pitch against left-handers or start coughing
up runs.

And this isn’t a bad thing. The Marlins don’t have the personnel to win in
2000, or even make a significant charge. This is a nice run early in the
season keyed by luck, good starting pitching and luck. The worst thing
would be for the team to take themselves seriously and make distribute
playing time, or worse, make organizational decisions with an eye toward
October, 2000. Alex Fernandez should still be traded, Ramon Castro
should be handed 300 at-bats as the team’s catcher and Dave Dombrowski
should still be on the lookout for teams who want to give up even more
talent for his older players.

What would be nice is for the fans in Miami to take a shine to the team. It
is young and there are some excellent players here. The Marlins are still
having a lot of trouble drawing crowds, the legacy of two years of
basically being told to stay away. Overcoming that is going to be harder
than sorting through the organization’s outfielders or picking a first
baseman. That, and not a flag flying above Joe Robbie Stadium, is Wayne
Huizenga’s real legacy.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.