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.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A Look ahead at the Marlins 2005 Schedule

Here’s a quick look ahead to the Marlins 2005 schedule.

The Marlins prospects within the division should begin to take shape fairly early, as they play ten games during the month against the Braves, Phillies, and Mets. Eight of those games are at home.

Having eleven other April games against the Reds (who should be markedly improved this season), the Nationals, and Rockies should help the Marlins get off to a strong start to the year.

On the contrary, the Marlins do not have many off days in April, so they’ll likely need to use five starters from the get go. The season starts off with nine games without an off day, and then after a day off on April 14th, the team plays games on consecutive days for more than a week and a half. It’s definitely a storm the team can weather, but it will likely require them to carry a fifth starter and possibly a twelfth pitcher on the active roster once they break camp. That’s unfortunately bad news for a youngster like Josh Willingham or Chris Aguila, both of whom are hoping to find roles on this club.

In addition to six more games against the Braves and Phillies (in total, not each), the Marlins play six games on the West Coast. Traditionally they’ve struggled against NL West clubs as visitors.

Later in the month the interleague schedule kicks off, with the Marlins facing their “natural rival” in the Tampa Rays. Granted it doesn’t carry the cache of Yankees – Mets, White Sox – Cubs, or A’s – Giants, but the games still count. I don’t think these games mean much more than any other regular season game to Marlins fans – and they probably don’t to either of the Rays fans.

More interleague. Oh joy. By the way, this is around the time of year that you should start to remember not to buy into the hype of how popular the interleague games are. Here’s the short version of why it seems that way: interleague games are played nearly exclusively on the weekends and during the summer. This, naturally, leads to better attendance. It’s not like they play these games in cold cities, mid-week during April or in mid-September when most teams are out of the race. Interleague is largely played when kids are out of school and their parents don’t have to wake up for work the next morning. It’s a win-win attendance wise. If all the matchups were the equivalent of Brewers vs. Devil Rays, attendance would still be good.

Unfortunately for the Marlins, attendance might be the best thing about this stretch of interleague. This year the Fish have drawn the AL West for the bulk of their non-rival interleague schedule. Seattle and Texas will visit the Fish at Dolphins stadium and they’ll also make a trip out West to play the Angels. As mentioned earlier, the Marlins traditionally struggle on the West coast, and the Angels should be a force to be reckoned with wherever they play this year.

Oh yeah, and there are seven more games against the mighty Braves. Well, at least I'm assuming they're going to continue to be mighty. Do you realize that there are kids who are starting out high school this year who have never known a season in which the Braves did not win their division? It hasn't happened in their whole lifetime; the Braves have always won the division.

The month is highlighted by another trip out West – this time to see the Giants and Diamondbacks. Luckily the Marlins will have had the all-star break in between trips out to play the Angels and their later visit to Phoenix.

Expect the Diamondbacks to play this year’s role of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. There’s plenty of young talent in their starting rotation and throughout their lineup, but not much is proven. Even what’s proven, like Russ Ortiz and Luis Gonzalez, isn’t necessarily spectacular anymore – even in the way that Randy Johnson was last year (and every other year) or Luis Gonzalez was in 2001.

The Giants are molded in the image of their manager, Felipe Alou, meaning that they are very old – but they are still very good. The Giants starting outfield this year (barring injury) will be the oldest in the history of major league baseball.

The month is bookended with series against the Cardinals. While few expect the Cardinals to equal their achievements from last season, they are still strong playoff contenders. Plus, playing in St. Louis in August is no more pleasant than playing in South Florida. It’s usually hot and humid. At least there’s not Astroturf anymore.

The season wraps up as it should, with almost all of the games coming against intra-division rivals. Only four games are played out of division, and those will be on the road against the Astros.

The Marlins will play seven games against the Nationals and six against the Braves. In all likelihood the Marlins will need to beat up on the Nationals in September and throughout the year in order to strengthen their record to give themselves some cushion against the league’s tougher opponents.

On the whole the Marlins schedule seems pretty fair. While it’s probably not ideal for a team this far East and South to have to make three separate West Coast road trips, they do benefit from their annual series against the Devil Rays (the Braves, on the other hand, draw the Red Sox). That might not be such a great thing this year, but in the long run it would be difficult to find a more favorable matchup.

Winning the season series against divisional opponents is key with these unbalanced schedules. Doing so allows teams some leeway in non-divisional matchups. Should the Marlins be able to win 10 (of their 19) games against the Braves and Phillies, 12 against the Mets, and 14 against the Nationals, that will give them 46 wins (in 76 games). Assuming it will take 90 wins to reach the post-season, the Marlins would only need to win 44 of their 86 other games (a .511 winning percentage). That figure seems pretty doable on the whole (as games against the Cardinals and Giants are evened out by games against the Pirates and Rockies).

There’s even some upside if the Marlins can continue their success against the Phillies and do a little better than winning 10 of 19 from the Braves.


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