Marlins set to host first-place Nationals

BY foxsports • July 13, 2012

The Miami Marlins were expected to be one of the clubs atop the NL East at the All-Star break. Instead, the Washington Nationals hold that position.

The Marlins aren't even .500 and are much closer to last place than first.

Four straight home games against the first-place Nationals gives the Marlins a golden opportunity to gain ground and they'll look to take advantage starting Friday night.

Hiring manager Ozzie Guillen combined with a spending spree that delivered shortstop Jose Reyes, starter Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell, while opening a new ballpark made the Marlins (41-44) a fashionable pick to win the NL East.

They're not even close.

Miami is fourth in the division, nine games back of Washington (49-34), which is aiming to reach the postseason for the first time since it was the Montreal Expos in 1981.

"Yes, I'm disappointed," Guillen told the team's official website. "I should be. I think we're a better club than what we were playing. I'm not managing this club for .500. I think we're better than a .500 club."

The Marlins have been streaky, going 21-8 in May to set a team record for wins in a month. However, they followed that up by dropping 22 of the next 34 heading into the All-Star break.

"We've been either very hot or very cold," Guillen said. "I think being inconsistent has been a big part of the problem. I wish every time we went out there, we would be more consistent."

That may be tough with Giancarlo Stanton - the Marlins' lone All-Star - out for at least a month after arthroscopic right knee surgery.

The right fielder leads the team with 19 homers and 50 RBIs and Miami fell 5-4 at St. Louis in its first game without him Sunday.

Increased production from Reyes would help. The NL batting champion last year with a career-high .337 average for the New York Mets, Reyes is hitting .264 with 20 stolen bases.

The Marlins are hitting .242, ahead of only San Diego's league-worst .234 average.

That may not matter with Josh Johnson (5-5, 4.06 ERA) scheduled to face the Nationals. The right-hander is 8-0 with a 3.24 ERA in 16 games against them, including a 5-3 home victory May 30. He allowed three runs in six innings to help Miami complete a three-game sweep.

Johnson is 5-0 with a 2.42 ERA in nine home starts against Washington, and 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his last three overall outings at Marlins Park.

The Nationals entered the break with two losses in three games against Colorado for their first series loss against an NL opponent since that three-game sweep at Miami in May.

"We have a great team. We have a lot of guys on this team that everybody likes and the game of baseball likes and the fans like," right fielder Bryce Harper told the team's official website. "It's an exciting time for us and an exciting time for the fans. It's a lot of fun to come to this clubhouse every day."

Unlike the Marlins, Harper is living up to the hype. The 19-year-old rookie is hitting .282 with eight homers, 25 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He walked and struck out in Tuesday's All-Star game after replacing Stanton on the roster.

Runs could be hard to come by in this game with Jordan Zimmermann (5-6, 2.61) opposing Johnson.

Zimmermann is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his last three starts and hasn't allowed more than three runs in his last seven outings.

The right-hander, though, hasn't been nearly that sharp in six starts against the Marlins, going 0-3 with a 4.81 ERA.

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