While the Phillies grabbed the spotlight in the pitching department, the Marlins did upgrade and will sport one of the most intriguing staffs in MLB. Even though most of the predictions by the “experts” for the Marlins circle around the Wild Card race, the term itself may work well with the Marlins’ staff. Edwin Rodriguez may be working with a good hand that features an ace and possibly three deuces. Just like in a game of cards where deuces are wild, in MLB having an ace and three pitchers that are #2 caliber talents can be a winning combination that can set the Marlins up for a season that has them sitting at the winners table deep into the fall.
With Josh Johnson, it’s simple. He just needs to be what he is and to do it for at least 32 starts, 200 innings, and secure 20 wins with his absolute dominance. While SABR followers may not entirely respect the win totals, it will still be a good sign for the Marlins if Josh Johnson is flirting with that neighborhood and certainly have the Marlins winning at least 2/3rds of his starts. We need our Ace card to be just that.
Next, we get to one of our potential deuces, Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco has been an enigma for many. While he has shown his ability to be a front-line starter, he has also shown us that he can easily be a guy that looks like an overpaid pitcher that could be on tour between MLB and the Minors. The Marlins need Good Ricky, not Bad Ricky who gives Marlins fans torturous flashbacks of Logan Kensing or Kevin Gregg. They need the guy who has command of his pitches and hits his spots. They absolutely don’t need the guy that is lobbing pitches right down the pipe that are begging to be launched into orbit. If we get Good Ricky for the whole season, he will be good for the traditional stats of 15-17 wins and an ERA in the low to mid 3.00 range. If he’s Bad Ricky, we know that he’ll get off to a horrible start and will spend the rest of the season playing catch-up for decent numbers while the Marlins have already fallen behind in the play-off race.
Third, we have another potential deuce in Javier Vazquez who has spent portions of his career as a front-line caliber starter. Vazquez comes to the Marlins after another failed run in New York. However, Marlins fans can take comfort in knowing that, when Vazquez has pitched in other locations, he’s been a quality starter, just like he was in 2009 with the Braves. The Marlins can certainly be helped if Vazquez has another good season left in him. If he does, he too can flirt with victories in the high teens and an ERA that may only be outdone on this team by J.J. If Vazquez has this type of season, he will take a lot of pressure off of the other staff members. He may be the Marlins most important pitcher this year, especially if he can contribute 200 innings of solid work.
Then, we have our potential third deuce in Anibal Sanchez. Many of us know the situation of Anibal’s injury and his struggles to comeback amidst the personal tragedy that no parent should endure and will naturally be rooting for Anibal no matter what. But I will say that Marlins fans can get excited beyond rooting for a very resilient man like Sanchez. Yes, he had a very good comeback and solid season last year, but I think we can get ready for bigger things from him. In my honest opinion, I believe that Anibal Sanchez is the Marlins best pitcher after Josh Johnson. While he may not have the stuff or overpowering and overwhelming presence of the other front-line pitchers of the game, Sanchez has that throw-back finesse to him. He’s the type of guy that can go through a game and a season just baffling hitters with his mastery of some of his pitches. We saw this when he was a rookie in 2006 and we saw it in his peak performance that year – his no-hitter. As he showed last season, he’s healthy again and he is mentally focused on his career again. He looks ready to enter his prime and peak ability. Some may find this thought a little on the crazy side or completely insane, but I believe that Sanchez is good for the high teens in wins and may be able to flirt with a 20-win season. He can also flirt with a top 10 or 15 ERA performance. If I am right and Anibal can perform at that level to combine with J.J., the Marlins may be celebrating their first ever division title.
Finally, closing out the staff, we have Chris Volstad. Now he is very likely only to perform in his role as a #5 starter, but he may be the most intriguing of all the Marlins pitchers. The kid has a lot of tools and showed a little bit of it in his rookie year, but the league has figured him out and he hasn’t been as consistent with his performances since. With that said, I won’t write him off as only being a career #5 performer yet as he is still developing, but he has to show something soon. I also won’t make the mistake of mentioning him with his teacher, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, but he doesn’t exactly seem like a terrible talent either. He seems more like the type of guy that can duplicate Carl Pavano type success – that is, the decent to good Pavano. However, we will see if that ever happens. For this year, Volstad should be a decent #5 and a good complementary piece in this deck of pitchers.
The likelihood is that Marlins fans won’t see all of these peak performances happening together this season, but the potential for 2 to 3 of these pitchers fulfilling this is there. Unfortunately, the potential of 2 to 3 and maybe all of them not achieving these is there too. We will have to see. One thing for sure, when Edwin Rodriguez sits at the table with Charlie Manuel, Fredi Gonzalez, Terry Collins, and Jim Riggleman, he should be playing with a good hand. If everything falls into place the right way, he may be playing with a winning deck, especially if the deuces go wild.