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COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY: Florida Marlins

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2002 Florida Marlins

Last Year's Record: 76-86, fourth place in the NL East.
Meet the Marlins
Projected lineup:
2B Luis Castilo
1B Derrek Lee
LF Cliff Floyd
CF Preston Wilson
3B Mike Lowell
RF Kevin Millar
C Charles Johnson
SS Alex Gonzalez
Projected rotation:
1. Ryan Dempster
2. Brad Penny
3. A.J. Burnett
4. Josh Beckett
5. Matt Clement Bullpen:
LH: Armando Almanza, Jesus Sanchez
RH: Braden Looper, Vladimir Nunez, Ricky Bones
Closer: Antonio "Six Fingers" Alfonseca
Last Year's Headline: FADING FISH The Marlins looked like a potential Cinderella to start the season. A solid young pitching staff. A veteran catcher. A great defense and an underrated lineup. Midway through the season, they had managed to quietly stay in the pennant race, to the surprise of many. The only people who weren't surprised were the team's local fans, who were never anywhere in sight. Just when the baseball world began to sit up and take notice, the Marlins promptly faltered. This Year's Question: Is anybody out there? Only the Expos drew fewer fans to home games in the National League last season. An average of just 15,765 turned out for each Marlins' home game, roughly half the total that turned out for games during the team's World Series season just four years prior. Heck, that World Series-winning team didn't even draw the types of numbers the team did in its first two campaigns. While the crowd won't win you games, it definitely hurts when fans don't come to watch the team play, in a financial sense if nothing else. Why This Team Could Be a Contender: All the key pieces of last year's crew are still in place, and a year more experienced. That alone should be enough to make this team a potential contender. But the biggest reason might be the absence of reliever Dan Miceli, whose criticism of the coaching staff divided the clubhouse and led to the dismissal of manager John Boles 49 games into the season. Tony Perez stepped down from the front office and took over, inspiring the Marlins' midseason surge, but decided to go back upstairs when the season ended. New manager Jeff Torborg has plenty of major league experience, something Miceli complained about the previous regime lacking. The only thing Torborg lacks is Miceli, and that is a good thing for the Marlins. Why This Team Could Be Contracted: Nobody in Florida would even notice. The new owner is Jeffrey Loria, who sold the Expos to buy the Marlins. The governor could care less. If getting rid of the Twins continues to be such a struggle, MLB might set its sights on the Marlins just because they are much easier prey. Hello My Name Is... Brad Arnsberg. The strength of this team is a young squad of promising pitchers. New pitching coach Arnsberg is the man expected to harness and cultivate those talents. After the first couple of weeks, the results have been tremendous. The youngsters believe in their new leader and feel he can take them to the next level. How they will hold up with minimal run support remains to be seen. A Moment of Silence For... Alex Fernandez. The Marlins' would-be ace who last pitched May 18, 2000 retired in the off-season. Last season was the final year of a five-year, $35 million deal the Cuban hurler signed to come home and become a franchise cornerstone. Instead he became a regular on the disabled list, competing in just 64 games over that period as a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder failed to get better despite surgeries and endless rehab. Fernandez won a team-high 17 games during the Marlins' 1997 World Series season, but was forced to watch the historic series from the bench. Add It to Your Palm Pilot: April 12-22. The Marlins get a chance right away to put some pressure on the rest of the division. Florida faces Atlanta and Philly in 10 successive games, three games against each team in Florida followed by a four-game set in Atlanta.
Tagged: Twins, Nationals, Rockies, Marlins, Derrek Lee, Alex Gonzalez, Brad Penny, Ryan Dempster, A.J. Burnett

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