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Meet Your NL East Leaders: The Florida Marlins

This weekend marks maybe the most important series of the season to date, a three-game home set against the Florida Marlins. I’m sure before the season nobody penciled these games in as most important of 2008, but welcome to Major League Baseball, where every few years the scrappy, young Marlins make a run for the crown.

In fact back before Opening Day I asked Craig Strain, author of Fish Stripes — my favorite Marlins blog — this question:

PN: It seems every time the Marlins strip its roster bare of big-money stars, the team surprises everyone and becomes a contender. Could the 2008 Marlins be that team, or will it take another year or more?

Strain: It should take at least another year or maybe two. The Marlins young starters are still rehabbing from the injuries suffered during the 2006 and early 2007. It’s hard to imagine the team will be contenders with this year’s starting rotation.

My theory, so far, is holding true and the young Marlins are contenders in the National League. In fact, they hold the third-best record in the NL, after the Cubs and Cardinals. But do you know your Marlins? Here’s a quick primer to get you set for the big weekend set.

Florida Marlins
2008 Record: 30-22, 1st place, NL East (0.5 games)
Runs scored: 254; runs allowed: 242
Pythagorean Record: 27-25

Not as expected: So the Marlins are supposed to be 27-25, judging by their run differential. Just remember, the Diamondbacks won the NL West with a Pythagorean Record of 79-83. The Phils, by the way, are Pythag’d at 33-22, which would make them second-best in all of baseball.

Primes of their lives: The Marlins boast an offense of guys reaching the primes of their careers. Slugging 1B Mike Jacobs (27) has 11 HR and 29 RBI. Utley-esque 2B Dan Uggla (28) has 16 HR and 38 RBI along with a .307 AVG. Then there’s Hanley Ramirez (24), maybe the most talented offensive player in the game, who is merely hitting .291 with 9 HR and 23 RBI. He has stolen 13 bases. Josh Willingham (29), while injured now, had 6 HR and a .341 AVG to start the season

Over my head: The Fish are benefiting from guys playing better than their careers would state. Journeyman infielder Jorge Cantu has 7 HR and 24 RBI. Platooning center fielder Cody Ross has 9 HR.

Defensive liabilities: Cantu has already committed 11 errors at third base. Uggla has 5 at second base. Ramirez has 8 at shortstop. What that means: hit it to the infielders!

Top pen: The Marlins bullpen has been very effective. Kevin Gregg is an under-the-radar closer. He has converted 10 saves and has blown 2. Lefty Renyel Pinto, who the Phils will likely see a lot this weekend, totes a 1.35 ERA. Matt Lindstrom has a 2.75 ERA and Doug Waechter has a 1.35.

Bad start: The Marlins rotation is poor. They’re led by Phillie-favorite Scott Olsen, who is 4-2 with a 3.65 ERA. Opening Day starter Mark Hendrickson is 7-2 with a 4.14 ERA. Ricky Nolasco has a 4.70 ERA. But 23-year-old Andrew Miller has a 5.53 mark. That is their current rotation, with regular starters Josh Johnson and Anibel Sanchez on the DL.

Bad blood: The Marlins and Phillies are not partnering on “Dancing With the Stars” anytime soon. In the last few years the teams have engaged in fisticuffs, with Olsen speaking out against the Phils. The Marlins and their fans usually dislike us because of our alleged smugness. Hey, at least we don’t have Olsen.

Still, applause should be in order for the Fish, who extinguished the Mets on Sept. 30 to end their hopes for a division title, and help us get ours.

For real?: The jury is still out on the Marlins among the major sports media outlets. Their rotation is very suspect (yes, worse off than the Phillies), and I’m not sure they have the offense to make up for their pitching woes. Their foundation is strong, but their roles players seem second-rate compared to the Phils. Still, the Marlins seem to always kick the doubters in the pants every couple years, so we have to be fully warned by this team — which makes this weekend a real important one.

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