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Series Twenty-Six: Braves at Marlins

The Marlins are back in Miami for the first time in two weeks and the Braves are back in Miami for the first time in two months.

Though we just got together last week, we sat down again with Braves former mascot Chief Noc-a-Homa to discuss the upcoming series.

: Nice to see you again, Chief.

: Thanks, Grover. Interesting road trip for the Marlins. What do you make of it?

: Interesting is definitely the right word. And I really don't know what to make of it. This Marlins team has been tough to read all year.

On the one hand, they've won a number of games by wide margins. Blow-out wins are often an indication of a good ballclub. However, the Marlins have also lost a number of close games. The Fish are 8-14 in one-run games. By comparison, the division-leading Nationals are 18-7 in such games. It's even difficult to pinpoint what's plaguing the Fish more in those close ballgames: poor work from the bullpen or a lack of clutch hitting...

: Sorry to interrupt you Grover, but your mention of a lack of clutch hitting has me wondering about something else. I'm starting to hear rumblings about Mike Lowell and steroids (or a lack thereof). Over at Maverick Ball, there's a story about some recent media reports about how fans (in this case Maverick) speculating that Lowell's slump is driven by a lack of steroids this year. There was also a St. Pete Times story over the weekend that discussed rumors that Lowell may have benefitted in recent years from testosterone supplements that he received resulting from his cancer struggles. What do you make of all of that?

: More than anything, I just hope none of this speculation is true. I've started to accept that many of the super-superstars of this era were on some form of performance enhancing substances. But if I come to find out that Mike Lowell was on steroids (or something) too - well, it will just change how I look at baseball.

I don't think Lowell was (or is) on anything though. In watching Lowell this year, it seems that he practically falls on top of home plate when he swings half the time. Watch his back foot. It often falls out of the batters box and near the plate. It's tough to hit - let alone to hit with much power - when you're off balance like that. Sure, it's an indication that he's swinging hard, but it's also a sign that he's not under control when he swings. More than anything I think that's what's driving Lowell's poor numbers this year. He needs to get that corrected.

Also, it's important to note that Lowell's slump isn't just a 2005 thing. Over the last calendar year, here's Lowell's line and stat totals: .258/.319/.411 (OPS of .730) with 14 HR, 69 RBI, 50 BB, 75 K. That's certainly not impressive (well, his defense has been impressive). Much of that is driven by a poor second half of 2004. Actually, that's what's most disturbing about Lowell's season long slump: he's usually a first-half player. In order for the Marlins to be successful this year, they're going to need that trend to change.

But speaking of things that needed to change and did, tell me about Andruw Jones.

: Andruw is carrying the Braves right now. He's hit 12 homers in the past 15 games. He even hit a walk-off homer on Saturday after injuring his wrist diving for a ball earlier in the game.

Jones seems to have finally stepped up and has become the player the Braves thought he would be for the past decade. In June, he's had an OPS of 1.124. While you can't tie it all back to this, many Braves insiders think that Jones' surge came as a result of a conversation that John Smoltz had with him. Smoltz went to Andruw and said that with Chipper out (injury), Andruw would need to step up, be a team leader, and carry the team for awhile. Andruw has done just that. This could be a career turning time for Andruw.

: Thanks, Chief. Enjoy this four game set.