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"Two Runners Left on Base" and Other Problems

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It's been an ugly couple of weeks for the Marlins. They've lost ten of their past twelve ballgames. The Fish have gone from first place to last place in the course of one weekend.

Fortunately, they're only a game and a half back of the division leading Washington Nationals (no, that's not a typo).

Sadly, while I think the Marlins are a better team (at least they're capable of being one) than their current record (28-26) indicates, I'm also quickly losing hope that anything will turn around. Now, I don't expect them to end the season in 5th place. But I also don't see them changing things up enough to win the division (and the way the NL East teams are beating each other up, it seems unlikely for the Wild Card to come from the division this year).

As much as I'd like to rag on Alois Leiter and blame him for all of the Marlins' woes, Leiter is only a part of the problem.

Games like this weekend's, where the Marlins should have won at least two of the three, but somehow found a way to lose all three, have been all too common this year. It hasn't even just been confined to this current skump.

Games I wish the Marlins had back:

  • April 6th, 1-2 loss to Braves: Juan Pierre pops up a bunt that turns into a double play; Larry Jones later homers to seal the deal
  • April 16th, 3-4 loss to Mets: Despite his concern about facing his former 'mates, Al Leiter outduels Pedro Martinez for 7 innings, only to have his performance wasted by the bullpen. Former Marlins Braden Looper and Ramon Castro help seal the Marlins' fate
  • April 24th, 1-2 loss to Reds: The Fish are shut out for 8 innings by Brandon Claussen, Joe Valentine, and Ryan Wagner. They are only able to score off of (apparently) future Marlin Danny Graves. Sigh
  • May 14th, 1-2 loss to Padres: Another solid outing by Leiter gone to waste. I suppose that happens when you run into Jake Peavy
  • May 15th, 4-12 loss to the Padres: The wheels come off in a 10-run 7th. The Marlins should have gotten at least one - if not two - wins in this series and the finale was probably the game they should have won.
  • May 30th, 2-3 loss to Pirates: Poor defense and a late inning collapse
  • May 31st, 4-5 loss to Pirates: See above
  • June 3rd, 2-3 loss to Nationals: ESPN's headline for the recap sums it up well, "Nats win despite not getting a hit after fourth inning" - yet somehow they managed a comeback win. Another way to look at it is that the Marlins defense was again porous (yes, I know that the middle infielders have well-deserved, stellar reputations, but for much of this year they haven't lived up to them). Despite seeing 150 pitches (150!) from the Nats starter, the Fish weren't able to mount much of an offensive attack

That's eight ballgames. Maybe you disagree with some. Maybe you'd like to add others. It really doesn't matter specifically, as I think we can all agree that the Marlins have given away a number of games that they flat out "should" have won. Had half of those games gone the Marlins way, I'd probably be looking at the current state of affairs much differently. They didn't though. The Marlins lost each of those games, and I suspect that come September, if the Marlins are still in the race, we'll look back at them and think "what if."

Another theme of this current losing streak has been leaving runners on base. The Marlins are 4th in the National League in OPS (onbase percentage plus slugging percentage) at .757. They're 9th in the league (.767) with runners in scoring position, and 12th in the league with runners on base (.759). Sure, it's interesting to note that the team OPS is higher with runners in scoring position and onbase, but that's apparently the case for the rest of the league too - the Marlins just don't do as well with men on base as other teams. In order to win, that has to change.

During this recent stretch (since the May 24th win against the Phillies), the Marlins have left an average of nearly 8 1/2 runners on the base paths (101 in 12 games). That includes a total of 35 in the most recent three games against the Nationals this weekend.

The USA Today publishes this handy table, which allows you to take a look at LOB totals (I did some math outside of the table). While the Marlins don't look so bad on a LOB per game basis (8th of 16 NL teams), during this current run, it hasn't been pretty. On average, NL teams leave 7.3 runners on base. During this twelve game stretch the Marlins have been leaving more than 8.5 on the basepaths. Should they maintain that pace for the entire season, they'll far and away be the worst in the league (so far the Padres - and, yes, I know this undermines my entire argument - lead the NL with 7.9 runners left on per game).

If the Marlins had been closer to the league average over the past twelve games (i.e. one less runner left on per game), some of those one run games might have turned out a little differently.

Final Thoughts
Sorry for all the doom and gloom today. It's been a rough stretch of baseball for the Marlins. There are many reasons for it - even without singling out any particular individual. That may be what's most concerning - the blame needs to be shared pretty much across the board. An improvement at the plate from Player X and better innings from Pitcher A aren't likely to turn things around. The Marlins need more than that.

At this point - as recently as last week, actually - I expected that the Marlins would be in serious cotention to win the NL East this season. Sure, they're not that far out of first place at this point, but they're also technically in last place. If recent trends continue, the Marlins will be sellers - and not buyers - come the July trading deadline. Should that happen, it could seal the Marlins fate in South Florida. If some of the key pieces of this ballclub, which we've all started to become attached to, are sold off for prospects, a la late-1997 and throughtout 1998, it may become inevitable that the Marlins leave town for Las Vegas (or somewhere) sooner rather than later.

I'd ask if I was crazy, but I know the answer to that. So instead, I'll ask what you think: Is the Marlins current situation as bad as it seems? Will the Marlins be buyers or sellers when the trade deadline rolls around in July?

Feel free to comment here, or to vent in the venting diary. Venting has also started here and here.