Who are the Florida Marlins?
That seems to be the question fans of other teams have asked every couple of years this decade, as the team has been built up and torn down time and again. Now, as they head into a new ballpark next season, the Marlins finally seem to have a core group of players they're building around.
It hasn't worked out to great success in this young season, but their 3-3 record is still good for second-place in a bunched-up NL East. Let's look at who the Marlins are this season:
The Marlins expected two big additions to carry their team this season. The first was young slugger Mike Stanton, who got some experience at the end of last season and had high hopes for his first full season in the major leagues. That is, before an injury in spring training has slowed his playing time considerably. Stanton has only started one game, back on April 1 in the season opener. He was pulled in the sixth inning of that game and has only appeared in two more as a pinch hitter. What started out as a quadriceps injury has morphed into a problem with his hamstring. Stanton isn't expected to start Friday against Houston, and it's questionable whether the Astros will see him in this three-game set.
The Marlins' other big import was former Houston Astros prospect John Buck. The catcher earned himself a big contract by having a breakout season in Toronto in 2010. So far, he's living up to expectations, hitting for a decent average, not walking at all and hitting for some power.
Buck has been one of the few stabilizing parts of the Marlins offense. Well, Buck and first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who already has hit four doubles this season. Former MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez has started out slowly, but is a career.373/.422/.559 hitter at Minute Maid Park. Second baseman Omar Infante was acquired in the Dan Uggla deal with Atlanta, but has also gotten off to a slow start, along with center fielder Chris Coghlan and left fielder Logan Morrison.
The Astros also lucked out in this respect, missing Florida's ace Josh Johnson by a day. They'll still face a tough lineup of starters as Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Javier Vasquez are scheduled to start in the series.
Nolasco struck out four in seven innings in his first start this season. A power pitcher who doesn't walk batters, Nolasco would easily be the ace of this Astros staff, as well as half the other teams in the National League. His biggest problem is he can be hittable at times. That hasn't been a problem for him over his career at MMP. In three games, Nolasco has only given up 11 hits in 17 innings for a batting average against of .177.
Sanchez struck out seven in his first start this season, but he also gave up seven hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. His problem throughout his career has been control. Sanchez can strike out a ton of batters, but gets in trouble with his walks. In two career games at Minute Maid Park, Sanchez has given up 13 hits in 11 2/3 innings, but has a 1.54 ERA with six strikeouts.
The old man of this pitching staff, Vasquez debuted to mixed results. The former Yankee, Diamondback, Brave, Expo and White Sock gave up seven runs (four earned) in 2 1/3 innings, walking five and striking out just one. That's coming off a season with the Yankees where Vasquez posted his first ERA over 5.00 since his second season in the majors (1999). Vasquez has started five games at MMP, holding an ERA of 2.83, though he has yet to receive a decision there. Nothing is certain, but it looks like Saturday may be the Astros' best chance to win a game against Florida.
Leo Nunez returns to his role as the closer for this team. Nunez isn't exciting, but he is effective, having saved 57 of 73 opportunities since filling the full-time closer's role in 2009. Nunez has only pitched in MMP once, striking out the side to finish a game in 2010.
As for the other bullpen options, both Edward Mujica and Michael Dunn have been effective this season. The bullpen as a whole has struck out 20 in 25 1/3 innings. They've also given up eight of the team's 28 runs despite pitching in 43 percent of the team's total innings.