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, April 05, 2005

Opening Day is Finally Here

Marlins season opens today, with the first pitch from Josh Beckett set to be thrown a few minutes after 4 PM.

In case you were wondering, which you probably weren't, I won't be there today. I'm still enforcing my self-imposed ban on attending Marlins games until the David Samson led regime makes some changes. There was an ugly ticket related episode last summer, but I won't recount it here because it's opening day and that's a happy time.

There's a lot to look forward to this year with Marlins baseball. Expectations are high, and rightfully so. On paper, this is probably the best team the Marlins have put together since the 1997 club - the 2003 team included.

But that's just on paper. This year's club has to get it done on the field. And in order for the Marlins to achieve the results that everyone's hoping for this year, they'll have to catch a lot of breaks (they're not the only really good and highly improved team in the division this year - there are three other contenders).

Here are some things to watch for this season if the Marlins are going to be successful:
  • Team Health - there's not a lot of depth here and a lack of injuries will help to mask that
  • Starting pitching - again this is dependent on health. 60 or more starts combined between Beckett and Burnett will lead to good things. Keeping Leiter and Valdez, both of whom are older, off the DL would be huge. And I hate to say it, but people who follow such things worry that Dontrelle's funky mechanics will sooner, rather than later, lead to injury.
  • Paul LoDuca - hopefully Matt Treanor's main role this year will be carrying LoDuca's bats and equipment to the dugout. Treanor's not the worst major leaguer of all-time, but LoDuca is a really good one and his health will help determine where the team goes.
  • Don't get your hopes too high for Carlos Delgado. Yes, he's instantly the biggest left-handed power threat in franchise history. But Dolphins Stadium is not very forgiving to lefties. The deep fences will likely turn at least a handful of balls that would have been home runs elsewhere into long fly balls. Hopefully they'll advance runners and not just be outs. Regardless, Delgado should have a really good year, just don't expect a runaway MVP type season.
  • Miguel Cabrera could have that kind of a year though. He's still extremely young (turning 22 later this month) and his best years are definitely in front of him. With the lineup that's surrounding him, this could be the start of his ascent to baseball super-stardom.
  • Can Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo incorporate their old speed back into their game this year? Both were relatively reigned in last year, with decreases in their stolen base totals. Add to that Pierre's injury this spring and doubts abound. If they can run though, or at least create the threat of running, that will mean even more fastballs for Cabrera, Delgado, and Lowell to feast on.

Most importantly, whatever happens today, don't let the results affect the outlook for the year. Yes, it's opening day and this is a big game against a divisional opponent, who's putting a likely future hall of famer on the mound. But it's just one game. One small fraction of the season (1/162). A win doesn't clinch the division and a loss doesn't mean elimination. There's always tomorrow, and next month, and the month after...

Baseball is back.

(And, as an aside, at first I was disappointed about how opening day is now spread out so much - particularly with all of the off days that are part of the opening series. But now that I look at it, it's actually kind of nice. Things are spread out and you can take more in. Plus, it helps you ease back into the flow of the season, without going from 0 - 60 in less than one day's worth of games.)


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