Well we've got 20 days left until Opening Day, which means it's season preview time. We'll be running it down team by team, with an added new wrinkle this time around: the beer of choice for fans of the team to enjoy whilst watching their team take the field! Nothing like that to help get you through a baseball season, especially if you're from Pittsburgh. Up next: the Florida Marlins.
Lineup: A lot depends on three youngsters. Chris Coghlan was the RoY last year, but his inflated numbers benefited from a high BABIP and an surprising - and probably fluky - uptick in power. Cameron Maybin has been tabbed as a top prospect for years now, and may be running out of chances to hold down the CF job for a full season - particularly if he can't stop getting hurt. And Gaby Sanchez was underwhelming in limited duty last season, but has the potential to grow into an above-average first baseman. If Coghlan can repeat his season and Maybin and Sanchez can realize their potential, then this team should be able to hit well enough to compete. SS Hanley Ramirez is one of the top 5 players in the league, Dan Uggla has mammoth power for a second baseman, and while Jorge Cantu isn't 'good,' per se, he should be good for about 25 tater tots. We don't like RF Cody Ross or C John Baker. Sorry, fellas.
Rotation: Josh Johnson is the deserving ace here, but Ricky Nolasco is a diamond in the rough. His FIP was significantly better than his ERA last season, and in 2008 he had a flat-out dominant stretch where he showed impeccable control and strikeout stuff - we'd equate it to a Ben Sheets-style of dominance. Beyond that 1-2, we have a collection of talented question marks: Anibal Sanchez can't stay healthy, 23-year old Sean West has command issues and is a bit too hittable, Chris Volstad has injury issues but can induce groundballs in his sleep, Rick VandenHurk has a big arm but has problematic struggles with the gopher ball, and Andrew Miller is fast ruining his top prospect status with a combined inability to stay healthy and refrain from walking batters. But all in all, having five talented guys to fill out the back three spots of a rotation that's headed by two excellent hurlers isn't a bad problem to have.
Bullpen: Leo Nunez is the closer here, but as it has been since the departure of the erstwhile Kevin Gregg, the job is nominal only. He doesn't strike out enough people to justify all the walks he gives up, and his flyball tendencies are worrisome for a late-inning, high-leverage reliever. Dan Meyer used to be a prospect, but in his 100 MLB innings since 2004, he's got an ERA of 5.09 and a sub-2.00 K:BB ratio, neither of which bode well. Renyel Pinto is the rare lefty who strikes out plenny gentlemen, but his control issues are more pronounced than any of the guys mentioned before. Burke Badenhop and Taylor Tankersley are no great shakes either, and we guess what we're saying is that there's not a lot of talent here.
Overall: A lot needs to go right if the Marlins are going to repeat their 2009 season that saw them in divisional competition. The lineup is top-heavy, with the potential for a fairly massive dropoff if the youngsters don't pan out, and the same can be said of the rotation. The team wishes the same could be said of the bullpen, where there just are not enough reliable arms to go around. The Marlins seem to be perpetually rebuilding, but this season finds them static and probably regressing.
Predicted Record: 79-82, 3rd place NL East
Beer: Land Shark Lager would've been the easy choice, but alas, Jimmy Buffett's tropical brew company no longer holds the rights to the Marlins' stadium. Instead, we're going with Abita Christmas Ale. The recipe is different every year, much like the way the Marlins have a lot of roster turnover every year. And even though there are years when the team is terrible, there's usually something to like here, by virtue of all the youngsters they run out there all the time. Which is like Christmas: even if it's not a great one, it's still Christmas. And sometimes you have a really great one - see e.g. the two World Series titles this team has brought in. Like Marlins players, Christmas Ale is a beer that you're not supposed to get too attached to, but rather embrace the changes every year and anticipate it being really, really great one year.