Thursday, August 03, 2006

Diamond Chatter -- Look out for the Marlins. Before I say anything else, I want to be clear that the N.Y. Mets will win the N.L. East this year. There should little doubt of that. Teams have blown bigger leads, but not very often.

In a prior post, I put out my opinion that the Mets would face challenges next season for N.L. East supremacy from the Braves and the Marlins - with the Marlins being the greater threat. The Florida Marlins have a very young and very good team. The Mets and Marlins just completed a series in Miami, and the Marlins took 2 of 3 from the Mets, and left the winning runs on base in the ninth inning in the only game they lost. In light of the Marlins' performance lately, and the way they showed up the Mets this week, I'd like to raise the notion that the Marlins are the better team right now. OK, I may be I'm getting ahead of things here, but the gap between the two teams is not nearly so large as their respective records would suggest.

I'm certainly not saying they will catch the Mets and win the division -- the Marlins got off to a miserable start, and they still have a losing record. They will have a helluva mountain to climb just to seriously challenge for the wild-card. The Marlins, to be sure, are still very raw -- they lack the veteran polish that the Mets have. And they have only one superstar-type hitter in Miguel Cabrera -- compared to the Mets, who have David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado -- and a budding superstar in Jose Reyes. Similarly, the Mets have two future Hall-of-Fame pitchers, in Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, while the Marlins, may have one in Dontrelle Willis -- and to say that about Willis is to talk about his potential, not what he has accomplished at this point in his young career.

Yet, the Marlins have a fairly solid line-up and they may have deeper pitching than the Mets. It's taken them half a year to find their form, including accidental discoveries like Anibal Sanchez. They still make mistakes -- witness Hanley Ramirez, who struck out bunting in the ninth inning on Wednesday night. And the Marlins' pitchers' E.R.A.'s are higher than their talent suggests, mostly because of youthful mistakes. Their raw youth aside, I still say this Florida squad is a very talented team. It's amazing how they keep retooling so quickly, while other teams continue to lose year after year.

There is always such tumult around the Marlins organization -- such instability. They can't get a stadium deal and keep threatening to leave. Who knows? If this situation gets strung out for a dozen years, they may wind up in Havana. OK, OK -- I'm getting a little ahead of things here -- Castro's still in charge (sort of) and the economic situation in Cuba is probably decades away from being able to support a major league squad -- talk about a small-market team! But, Havana was once a bigger city than New York, Philadelphia or Boston. MLB keeps trying to go beyond the U.S. borders. Puerto Rico was a bust, and Mexico presents unique challenges because of distance, altitude, a weak economy, and a soccer-based sports culture. Down the road -- perhaps, not even in my lifetime -- after the dollars have started pouring in, Havana might be a much better prospect for expansion. But, I digress....

For now, for real, Florida will be one team to closely watch the rest of this season and a team to watch out for next season.

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