The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A.J. Burnett starts, Fish Leave Bats at Home

Last night’s game in Philadelphia marked the first time of six that the Marlins and Phillies will face off against each other before the end of July.  The outcome of these games could have serious implications on each team’s ability to make the post-season.  Throughout 2003 and for the early part of 2004, the Marlins have dominated the Phillies.  Going into last night’s game, the Marlins were 6 – 0 against the Phils.  In 2003, the Marlins won 13 of 19 games against the Phillies (including eight wins in a row during the middle of the season and three games late in the year that sealed the Phils fate; the margin in head-to-head victories for the Marlins was enough to propel them ahead of the Phillies and into the National League Wild Card, and eventually the World Series championship.   So going into the game, things seemed pretty good for the Marlins.  It didn’t turn out that way though.  The Marlins lost to the Phillies, and fell another game behind the Eastern Division leaders.
But A.J. Burnett was on the mound for the Marlins last night, and that alone was reason for Marlins fans to be nervous.  Now, that’s not to say that Burnett has pitched badly since returning from Tommy John surgery on June 3rd.  He really hasn’t.  His 4.53 ERA definitely doesn’t jump off the page as sparkling (it’s not), but it’s respectable enough.  His 1.23 WHIP isn’t dazzling, but it too is respectable.  All of Burnett’s numbers are better than the 1 – 5 won – loss record that he has accumulated so far this year (as well as the 1 – 9 record the Fish have accumulated in games Burnett has started – inclusive of those in which he didn’t “earn” a decision).
The Marlins are 25th in the league (out of 30 teams!) so far this year in runs scored with 397.  That averages out to 4.2 runs per game so far for the Fish.  This is definitely not a great total, particularly when you consider that Cleveland (which is first in the league) is averaging 5.7 runs per game and that Anaheim (which is tenth in the league) is averaging over 5.1 runs per game.  The name of the game in major league baseball is to outscore your opponent, and when you’re in the bottom 20% of the league in scoring, you’d better get some great pitching.
Well, the Marlins aren’t getting great pitching from Burnett this year, but they are getting good pitching.  What’s ailing Burnett more than anything right now is that the Marlins aren’t scoring when he takes the hill.  Overall, as noted above, the Marlins are scoring 4.2 runs per game.  When Burnett starts, however, the Fish are only scoring 2.5 runs per game.  This is also a little misleading because in Burnett’s ten starts, the Fish have scored zero or 1 run four times and scored two runs twice.  That’s a total of six of his ten starts in which the offense scrounged up two runs or less.  It’s hard to argue that the offense is giving the team a chance to win the game in those six games because the pitcher is going to have to be nearly perfect to hold a team to less than two runs. 

So what’s the point here?  No, it’s not that the Marlins are being hurt by their pitching.  Sure, the pitching has not been stellar.  It surely hasn’t been good enough to win a World Series.  But it’s been decent and steady.  A couple more timely hits or lucky bounces (like the Marlins seemed to get each game last year) would translate into more wins if the club continues to get the kind of pitching that they are out of Burnett.  Had the Fish won half of the Burnett’s starts so far, they’d be four games better in the standings right now, which would put them in first place and solidify them as a contender for a playoff berth, and would also likely mean that they’d be in the market to acquire a player or two for the stretch run.  The truth of it though is that they aren’t.  The Marlins are 1 – 9 in games Burnett starts, and even when A.J. is on the bench, the Fish are struggling.  Still though, if there’s any hope of turning things around, the Marlins need to acquire a bat.  Find a way to make it work with Carlos Delgado or Jason Kendall and let’s see if that can push the Fish into the post-season again.    


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