yesterday i explained why we should all be afraid of the padres; today i'll list the myriad reasons to tremble before the florida marlins.
they're better than the padres, first of all; that's a given. but the gap isn't nearly as vast as it seems -- a mere 4.5 games in the standings. florida has only outscored its opponents by 6 runs this year, 676 to 670, despite outhitting their opponents by 7 points (.272 - 265), outslugging them by 10 (.410 - .400), and outhomering them by 14 (119-105). their lineup, formidable on paper, falls apart on the field; only three marlins are slugging higher than .419, and only three regulars have on-base pcts above .350. florida's offense ranks just 10th in the league in walks drawn and 14th in hr; apparently moneyball lacked a distributor in miami-dade county. like the padres, they fare much better away from their offense-stifling ballpark: the marlins lead the national league in road batting avg (.278) and are second in runs scored, behind the cardinals. but they still got no pop -- 11th in the league in road hr -- and no discipline -- 13th in the league in road walks.
their two best hitters, delgado and cabrera, are both so new to the national league that we can't get meaningful matchup reads on them. but so what: the key guys in that lineup are the two scatbacks at the top of the order, juan pierre and luis castillo. little luis fares well against all the cardinal starters except suppan, but pierre uniformly struggles -- in 98 plate appearances against the current stl staff his career obp is .253. ray king owns him: 13 confrontations, 12 outs. if the cards can keep him off base, they should have decent success against the marlin lineup.
how can florida's pitching staff lead the league in shutouts but rank only 7th in era? two reasons: first, their #4 and #5 starters have combined for a 5.14 era in 60 starts; and 2d, their bullpen rates 15th in the league in era (4.85) and 13th in ops allowed (.779). but those are the type of weaknesses that are easy to hide in a short series; florida's 1 thru 3 starters -- the guys who would throw 70 pct of the innings in a five-game set -- are at least as good as the cards' top three, and they have a fairly reliable closer. they also have an ace in dontrelle willis who is capable of outpitching carpenter. picture this scenario: willis throws a shutout in game 1 (he leads the league with 5), forcing the cards to try to even the series against former world series mvp josh beckett. . . . . gulp. in 6 career starts against the cardinals, beckett's career era is 4.97, but still . . . . .
the obvious approach to take against these guys is to burn their starting pitchers out, run deep counts and get them out of the game by the 7th inning, then beat the sh*t out of the bullpen. the same formula worked against the astros last year. stl's rotation doesn't have to outpitch florida's guys, just hold them more or less to a draw -- an assignment that would seem well within their reach.
the common wisdom has the padres as the easiest 1st-round foe by far, and the marlins as the toughest; but to my eye these two teams are pretty close. neither team hits with much authority, and both have #1 pitchers capable of dominating the series. san diego has a terrible rotation backed by a shutdown bullpen, while the marlins have a shutdown rotation backed by a terrible bullpen. given my choice, i'd take my chances against the weak rotation and hope the cardinals can grab leads early, keep the bullpen out of play; but that's not a particularly strong preference.