Following last night's loss to the Phillies, Marlins manager Jack McKeon uttered what is possibly the understatement of the year:
The issue for the Marlins so far has definitely not been the pitching. In fact, it's been far from the pitching. The Marlins team ERA is 1.46. Only two pitchers, Al Leiter at 3.38 and Matt Perisho at 5.40, have ERAs over 3.00. So, it's been a pretty solid start to the year for the Marlins pitching staff. It's definitely more than one could expect, and one would also have to expect that the early results won't hold up for the season (if they did the Marlins staff ERA would nearly equal Bob Gibson's individual single season record for low ERA - 1.12).
The offense, on the other hand, has been the issue. While it's not abudantly clear from the statistics (team batting of .269/.344/.394), the Marlins have either been hot or cold. When they score, they tend to score in bunches - earning their three wins in blowouts. But when they're cold, nearly everyone seems to be cold.
Mike Lowell (.214/.267/.321) and Luis Castillo (.095/.269/.095) have been off to the slowest starts of the regulars. Given both of their track records, there's definitely reason for optimism that things will improve (if Castillo's numbers don't, he could redefine the Mendoza line).
Maybe it's too early to worry about Mike Lowell and Luis Castillo's slow starts. Eventually they will come around and start to put up the numbers that everyone is used to seeing from them. For an example, look at Derek Jeter last year. He started out terribly slow - even enduring a 1-for-24 streak - in the early goings last year. Eventually he recovered though and was fairly hot for the last four months of the season - which helped him to end the year with numbers comparable to his career averages.
Is it too early to read into these slow starts? Many would tell you that it most definitely is.
Conventional wisdom will tell you that guys are still getting loose and getting into the rhythm of the game (and yes, this is the same conventional wisdom that will tell you that Spring Training is too long - as contradictory as that might seem).
In the 10 years since baseball went to the wild-card system, 80 teams have advanced to the playoffs. Of those, 65 - 81.25 percent - had at least five wins after 10 games.
And 76 - a staggering 95 percent - were at least 4-6 at that oh-so-early juncture.
A statistician would probably tell you that a ten game sample and/or a ten season sample is too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. But for a baseball, who often is forced to work with small sample sizes in order to make snap decisions, this is pretty compelling.
The Marlins need to overcome Lowell and Castillo's slow starts and win some games despite them. The Yankees overcame Jeter's slow start last year (obviously with a much deeper bench). And the Marlins were constructed in a way that they can overcome this. When Castillo's not getting on base, Pierre needs to be. When Lowell isn't knocking Pierre in, either Cabrera or Delgado needs to be.
If the Marlins lose their next three games, they're not doomed for the 2005 playoffs, but they'll definitely have some ground to make up. They did that in 2003 (when they started out 4 - 6, and sunk even further below .500 by mid-May). Everyone involved though would rather see a hot start (like the 1997 champions had - when they went 8 - 2 to start the year, and were 10 games over .500 by the end of May).