The Herald's Marlins midseason report

07/13/2007 12:15 AM

07/13/2007 12:21 AM

They strike out a lot. They make tons of errors. They don't win at home. Their pitchers are always getting hurt. But, for all their flaws, the Marlins won't go away. They're not close enough to the top of the standings to classify them as contenders, nor distant enough to count them out. Yet they hover below .500 as the season enters the second half, searching for the long winning streak that has eluded them in the first half. Do they have it in them? Not unless they improve their grades.

HITTING >>>>>>>>>>>>>>B+

Despite their propensity for striking out, the Marlins -- believe it or not -- make contact. They rank fourth among NL clubs in runs scored and fourth in home runs. <strong>Hanley Ramirez</strong> is back in his natural element, the leadoff spot, and couples with <strong>Miguel Cabrera</strong> to form one of the most proficient one-two acts in the majors.

STARTING PITCHING >>>>>>>C-

The disabled list has harbored four different Marlins starters at various points this season, with <strong>Josh Johnson</strong> and <strong>Anibal Sanchez</strong> being the most conspicuous absentees. The staff has yet to toss a complete game, is averaging fewer innings per outing than any other group of starters in the NL and has a league-worst .285 batting average against.

BULLPEN >>>>>>>>>>>>>>C-

The ghost of Jorge Julio is slowly dissolving into a nearly invisible mist with the successful ascension of <strong>Kevin Gregg</strong> to the closer's throne. Though the bullpen ranks in the bottom tier of NL clubs, it has started to show gradual improvement because of the likes of Justin Miller and Renyel Pinto. Considering the workload the bullpen has endured, it could be worse.

FIELDING >>>>>>>>>>>>>>F

The Marlins have made 73 errors, including this one by <strong>Jeremy Hermida</strong>. Not only is that the highest total in the NL, but it is also only two errors shy of the number committed by the 2003 team <em>all season. </em>No amount of extra infield and outfield practice is going to reverse the trend substantially. The Marlins' everyday players, most of them, are inherently substandard fielders.

INTANGIBLES >>>>>>>>>>>>C

If one imagines that the Marlins are floating on the outside edge of the playoff picture then one must also assume their only chance of playing past September is by finishing with a winning home record. To do that, they'll have to go 24-15 over their remaining 39 home games. Now would be a good time for them to reverse gears, as they come out of the break with 10 straight home games, seven of them against last-place teams in Washington and Cincinnati.

MANAGING/COACHING >>>>>>B-

<strong>Fredi Gonzalez</strong> is the fourth manager for the Marlins during the past 5 &frac12; seasons and, like his predecessor -- the one-and-done Joe Girardi -- Gonzalez is a rookie helmsman. He doesn't openly criticize obvious deficiencies, such as the team's poor fielding record, and isn't a screamer. He has been handcuffed by an injury rash that Girardi didn't experience, so it's difficult to get a fair read on Gonzalez this early into his reign.

BENCH >>>>>>>>>>>>>>B-

On most any other team, Alfredo Amezaga would serve in the role of utility infielder. On the Marlins, though, he is their primary center fielder. So it's hard to qualify him a bench player. Veteran <strong>Aaron Boone</strong> is the primary man on the bench, and filled in admirably at first base when Mike Jacobs was out with an injury. Matt Treanor and Jason Wood have also been productive in their part-time roles.

FUTURE >>>>>>>>>>>>>INC.

Already, reports are emerging that <strong>Dontrelle Willis</strong> will be traded before the July 31 trading deadline. Don't believe them. For now. The Marlins still hover on the edge of contention and a hot start to the second half could turn them into buyers, not sellers. On the other hand, if the Marlins drop out entirely during the coming 3 &frac12; weeks, anything is possible.

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