Marlins remain optimistic about second half

BY foxsports • July 14, 2012

MIAMI -- Ozzie Guillen's prediction that it will get better will have to wait at least another day.

The story for the Marlins in the first half of the season was an anemic offense. The story to start the second half of the season was, well, an anemic offense.

"I think the second half is no way going to be worse than (the first half)," Guillen, Miami's manager, had declared before Friday's game against Washington. "I don't think so. Not with our talent. And that's my expectation."

There were no signs of the Marlins busting out against the Nationals. In a 5-1 loss at Marlins Park, they had seven hits, not one for extra bases.

Before the second half of the season began Friday, several Miami players had talked about a lack of consistency in the first half, when the Marlins hit .242. Well, they batted .241 Friday. That sounds pretty consistent, so maybe a new word choice is needed.

"I'm not going to panic yet," catcher John Buck said after the loss had dropped Miami a season-most 10 games behind Washington in the National League League East.

Don't count on the Marlins (41-45) catching the Nationals (50-34). But, thankfully for them, baseball this season added a second wild card in each league.

Miami is six games out of a wild-card spot. That doesn't sound that bad.

That is, if the Marlins are as good as they say they are.

There was plenty of optimism in spring training thanks to the offseason signings of shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell and starter Mark Buehrle. But Reyes, who won the battling title with a .337 average last season with the New York Mets, is hitting just .265 and Bell, with an ERA of 6.75, has been mostly a disaster. Buehrle, with an ERA of 3.25, has been solid but is just 8-8 due to a lack of run support.

"I'm very disappointed with the way I played in the first half," Reyes said. "I need to pick it up in the second half. I know that I'm capable of the way I played last year."

Reyes did go 1-of-3 with a walk Friday. And first baseman Carlos Lee, acquired July 4 from Houston, was 2-of-4 in his first Marlins home game.

If you're looking for optimism for the second half, Lee is a good place to start. The Marlins were getting next to nothing from first baseman Gaby Sanchez, who never has been the same since representing the team in the 2011 All-Star Game. He was sent to the minors when Lee arrived.

Lee is slipping at 36. But the Marlins are hoping he can at least somewhat approach the form that enabled him to have seven straight seasons of 99 or more RBIs from 2003-09.

"He's an RBI man," Guillen said. "He knows how to hit."

Of course, unless Lee hits a home run, somebody has to get on base for him to get an RBI.

But at least one other reason for Miami's second-half optimism is utility man Emilio Bonifacio having returned Friday after being out since May 18 due to a thumb inury. Bonifacio, called by Guillen the team's "spark," had 20 steals in 39 games before being hurt.

Bonifiaco, who went 0-of-3 with a walk, didn't have any steals Friday. But right-fielder Justin Ruggiano sure did, getting three.

With the Marlins trailing 5-0, Ruggiano stole second and third base in the seventh inning. One supposes it was good news he didn't have to steal home for Miami to get a run. Buck singled him home.

Miami's offensive problems this season have been well chronicled. Logan Morrison is hitting just .245 and Hanley Ramirez, another former batting champion, is at .251. At least Ramirez had two hits Friday after having been moved all the way down to fifth in the batting order.

While Lee has arrived and Bonifacio is back, the Marlins still don't have Giancarlo Stanton, their best player who had to drop out of last Tuesday's All-Star Game after having knee surgery last weekend. Stanton is expected to be out until at least early August.

"Why wouldn't we be optimistic?" said Buck, who is hitting .178 but prefers to look at positives rather than negatives. "I think we've got a good club. We haven't played well. I think we've underachieved. So, that in itself, I think we can say we have a very good chance. Did we make it hard on ourselves? Yeah. But we have a good enough team and, with the addition of Carlos, I think we have a good enough team to close the gap."

The Marlins didn't close it on the Nationals on Friday, losing their third straight. Entering the game, Miami had on eight different days this season been nine games out of first place but never 10.

Handcuffing the Marlins was Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. He threw six shutout innings, striking out six.

"I think (Friday) we take like another All-Star break day," Guillen said. "Hopefully, (Saturday) we come here and starting swinging the bat better."

So Miami's All-Star break simply lasted a day longer than the ones of other teams. That means the Marlins will start Saturday in trying to make up for their uninspiring first half.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at
or on Twitter @christomasson

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