MIAMI (CBS4) – Baseball fans across the country are rejoicing as Spring Training has sprung for every Major League Baseball team. It’s the time of year when optimism reigns and anything is possible. For the Marlins, it’s all about the Philadelphia Philllies.
The Phillies landed the best free agent pitcher in the offseason, Cliff Lee. With the addition of Lee, the Phillies rotation is arguably the best rotation since the 1993 Atlanta Braves. The Phillies will throw out Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee.
Oswalt and Halladay are 20 game winners, Hamels is a former World Series and NL Championship Series MVP, and Lee is a former Cy Young winner himself. They’ve been dubbed the “Four Aces,” and some are calling them the best rotation ever.
While that’s still to be debated, it is quite obvious that the race for the NL East will go through Philadelphia. All of that brings us to South Florida’s team, the Florida Marlins.
Florida is consistently a team that shows up for spring training with no expectations for them from the baseball writers. The Marlins don’t mind and they are confident they can play with anyone, even the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies.
“I think it’s fair to say the Marlins have been under the radar before, maybe even after we won it all in ’03,” Florida President Larry Beinfest said. “We don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. I don’t think our players think about it, either.”
Still, the Marlins don’t have to overcome just the Phillies, there’s also the Atlanta Braves, who just last year won 91 games on the way to the playoffs. But the Marlins don’t mind that no one is paying much attention and are relishing being out of the limelight.
“I think we’re used to not getting the attention,” Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson said. “I think we like it. It’s part of being the underdog. We don’t need the attention. We don’t want the attention. I don’t, personally.”
Florida finished the 2010 season 17 games behind the Phillies. The Fish managed just 5 wins in 18 games against the Philllies and gave up Halladay’s perfect game in a game at Sun Life Stadium in 2010.
“Those guys (the Phillies), they have a good rotation. They have everything,” Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez said. “We have a younger staff and they have great pitchers, but we are too. So we go pitch-by-pitch, day-by-day, do what we have to do. They won’t win all their starts.”
Still, the Marlins understand that the Phillies are the big fish in the sea and if the Marlins want to succeed this season, they’re going to have to take a big bite out of the Phillies.
The Marlins rotation is developing and still very young. The Marlins have All-Star Josh Johnson as the team’s ace. Johnson had a league-leading ERA of 2.30 in 2010. Following Johnson in the lineup is Ricky Nolasco who led the Marlins last season with 14 victories.
Past Johnson and Nolasco, there’s Javier Vazquez who pitched last season for the New York Yankees. Anibal Sanchez is next in the Marlins list of starting pitchers and finally, Chris Volstad is in the starter’s rotation after losing just one of his 13 starts in the second half of the season in 2010.
The Marlins still have plenty of punch in their lineup too with the return of Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton. Ramirez had 21 home runs and 76 RBI’s while hitting .300 for the season. Stanton, a vaunted rookie last season, finished the season with 22 home runs and 59 RBI’s.
Add to that Gaby Sanchez’s 19 home runs and 85 RBI’s in his first full season, and new catcher John Buck’s 20 home runs and 66 RBI’s in 2010, and the Marlins have the makeup of a strong lineup to match with most any team in the NL.
But, it will all come down to can the Marlins hang with the Phillies. Team management is happy with the current lineup and owner Jeffrey Loria told CBSMiami that the team can win around 80 to 90 games. Spring is here, and that means the boys of summer are not far behind.