Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The time for speculation and talk has finally ended for the Miami Marlins. In less than 48 hours, the Marlins will take the field to open the regular season for the first time at Marlins Park.
The Marlins drew the St. Louis Cardinals for Wednesday night’s game. The Cardinals are the defending World Series champions, though this year’s team is not the same team as the one that walked off the field in October as champion.
The Cardinals are without ace pitcher Chris Carpenter and lost future Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols to the Anaheim Angels. But the team the Cards will face is nothing like the team the Marlins last sent out on the field.
The Marlins finally have ace pitcher Josh Johnson healthy and he’s ready to lead a rotation that has plenty of potential heading into the season. Johnson has largely been overlooked nationally, but at 6’7” and just 28 years old, he’s the Marlins’ best kept secret.
In spring training, Johnson was 2-2 with a 2.42 ERA. He struck out 24 batters in 22 1/3 innings pitched and gave up just six earned runs over all. Batters hit .253 against the Marlins ace during spring ball as well.
Johnson said he’s ready, though he said he’s never pitched in a nationally televised game that he can remember.
“Hopefully, it’s going to be loud and awesome,” Johnson told MLB.com. “Opening Day is Opening Day, but this is a little more special.”
Johnson’s health will be watched closely by the Marlins staff. He pitched only 60.1 innings last year and missed the majority of the season with shoulder inflammation. But Johnson isn’t the only difference in the lineup this year.
The pitching rotation will consist of Johnson, free agent acquisition Mark Buehrle, right handed pitcher Ricky Nolasco, free agent acquisition Carlos Zambrano, and right handed pitcher Anibal Sanchez. If Zambrano can regain his form, it’s a formidable rotation if everyone stays healthy, especially Johnson.
The projected opening day lineup will also have some new names to mix in with the veterans. Starting at the top of the lineup, free agent acquisition Jose Reyes will leadoff followed by last year’s breakout hitter Emilio Bonifacio.
Hanley Ramirez, who tore up Spring Training, looks to regain his hitting stroke at third in the lineup. He’s followed by Giancarlo “Mike” Stanton, who is looking to put together another big season at the plate using his power.
After Stanton, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez will bat followed by Omar Infante, John Buck, and Johnson will hit in the nine hole for the Marlins.
The Marlins face an uphill battle as the National League East looks to be tough again this season. Philadelphia is the odds-on favorite based on their pitching staff, but Atlanta is rapidly closing the gap on them, as are the Marlins.
Miami has some added promise this season as their will be two wildcard berths for the playoffs open. If the Fish can’t overcome the Phillies or Braves, they still have a good shot of taking a wildcard spot and getting to the postseason.
For a team with new uniforms, new players, a new manager, and a brand-new ballpark, it will be quite an accomplishment if the fans are treated to a little October baseball in South Florida.