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Marlins and stolen bases.....

Ramp

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from the front page!
The Go-Go White Sox did it in 1959. The Los Angeles Dodgers followed suit in the early 1960s. Whitey Herzog's St. Louis Cardinals made it work in the mid-1980s.

But it's been a long time since any team has tried to do what the Florida Marlins are trying -- run their way to a pennant.

Smaller ballparks, bigger physiques and thinner pitching staffs have led to an emphasis on power. Since the home run explosion in the mid 1990s, teams have concentrated on trotting around the bases rather than sprinting.

No sense taking it a base at a time when four will do. And don't forget the fans' affection for the long ball, which packs ballparks and holds interest over three-hour contests.

Since 1998, the single-season home run record has been smashed three times, by two different players. The number of hitters enjoying 50-homer seasons has nearly doubled.

By stark contrast, no single baserunner has come remotely close to Rickey Henderson's stolen-base mark of 130. Most teams don't come close to his total.

Baseball may feature better athletes, capable of running faster than ever before. But increasingly, players are picking their spots. Why risk being thrown out trying to swipe second when the next hitter in the lineup is capable of hitting the ball 400 feet and clearing the bases?

The Marlins aren't trying to re-invent the game or make any kind of statement. Nor is their approach dictated by a long-held philosophy. Though manager Jeff Torborg came of age in the Dodgers organization and watched teammate Maury Wills (briefly) revolutionize the game on the basepaths, nothing in Torborg's previous managerial stops in Chicago or New York suggested that he was particularly committed to the running game.

No, the Marlins are simply looking to make do with what they have.

"If that's the best resource you have, that's the thing to do,'' said a rival general manager. "If I were putting a team together, I wouldn't try to do it. But if that's the hand you're dealt, then that's what you have to do.''

Through Sunday night's games, a look at the National League stolen-base leaders was dominated by Marlins the way the 1964 Top 40 chart was dominated by the Beatles -- Juan Pierre and the Dodgers' Dave Roberts are tied for the lead with 12 steals. Teammate Derrek Lee is next with 10 steals. Three of the next four spots are occupied by Marlins -- Juan Encarnacion (9), Luis Castillo (7) and Ivan Rodriguez (7).

As a team, the Marlins have 52 steals; the next two closest NL teams (Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) combined (43 steals) don't equal that amount.

Run, baby, run!
Teams with the most stolen bases in the majors (through May 4):
Team Steals
Florida 52
Anaheim 26
Tampa Bay 23
Pittsburgh 22
Boston 21
Cincinnati 21

Their home field, Pro Player Stadium, plays bigger than most of the ballparks in either league. The heavy humidity of south Florida is a detriment to power hitters, and the spacious power alleys in left-center and right-center are no more inviting.

For a time, the Marlins seemed to ignore their spacious environs and attempt to score runs in bushels. Their lone winning season in 10 years of existence -- their championship season in 1997 -- featured a power-packed lineup and included such sluggers as Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla and Gary Sheffield. In recent years, however, a slow transformation has taken place.

Over the winter, the addition of Pierre (obtained in a blockbuster deal with Colorado) gave the Marlins yet another stolen-base threat to go with Castillo.

Still, the Marlins' approach has its share of skeptics.

"I've never known anybody that stole enough bases to put them in contention to do anything,'' said one AL GM. "They're looking at their personnel and figuring this is the best way to score runs, so I can't knock it. But I don't think it holds up in the end. Let's face it: If you can pitch and hit, you've got a better chance than just running.''

At least, another executive said, the Marlins are experimenting in the right league.

"If you don't have power in the American League, you're not going to survive,'' the executive said. "The National League, I guess, you can do a little more of that. In the American League, teams sit back and wait for the three-run homer. In the National League, you get to the sixth or seventh spot and the lineups just aren't as strong.''

In an era of tape-measure homers and power from nearly spot in the lineup, the Marlins are attempting to turn back the clock to the 1970s and '80s when, particularly in the National League, speed ruled.

But times are different. Artificial turf has all but disappeared, and with it, the cookie-cutter, multi-purpose stadiums that were seemingly built with speed in mind.

"Another thing -- those teams (in the 1970s and '80s) had no power to speak of,'' said a personnel expert. "The Pirates and Cardinals used to slap and run on the turf. But I don't think that can work -- nickle-and-diming people to death.''

To some, the margin of error is too great. Thanks to head-first slides, baserunners run the risk of jamming (or breaking) fingers and hands, to say nothing of separated shoulders.

? I've never known anybody that stole enough bases to put them in contention to do anything. (The Marlins are) looking at their personnel and figuring this is the best way to score runs, so I can't knock it. But I don't think it holds up in the end. Let's face it: If you can pitch and hit, you've got a better chance than just running. ?
? An AL general manager

Secondly, too much has to happen for the formula to work properly.

"You've got to have enough people to get on base,'' another GM said. "If you're not stealing at an 80-percent clip (success rate), there's nothing that says stealing second base is going to guarantee you a run. You get a guy on, have him steal, get him over and get him in -- all that work for one run.

"Or you can get a couple of hits and hit a homer or hit a ball into the gap and score two or three runs. Which is more efficient?''

The Marlins' batting order is filled with top-of-the-lineup greyhounds who can steal bases with ease. Problem is, other teams have the same kind of players with far more tools.

"Look at a guy like (Alfonso) Soriano,'' said one NL general manager. "He can fly, steal you 40 bases. But he can also hit you 40 homers. What's more valuable to a team? Leadoff hitters are just as capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark, so why would you be satisfied with him just plunking a single through the infield?''

It may also be that the Marlins are missing the other ingredients necessary to win with small ball -- pitching and defense. While the Marlins' athleticism makes for good range in the field, their defense is only slightly above average at most positions; they are 10th in the NL in fielding percentage. And the recent glut of injuries to their young rotation (A.J. Burnett underwent Tommy John surgery last week and Mark Redman broke his left thumb) has robbed them of a necessary component (their 4.42 ERA ranks 11th in the NL).

"If you're going to play that style,'' warns a GM, "you're playing for one run at a time. You better have the pitching to shut the other guys down and the ability to catch the ball. I'm not sure, after (the injuries to two starters) they have enough.''
 

Wild Card

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One part to dissagree with: Just above average Defense? Yea, right...
 

Ramp

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One part to dissagree with: Just above average Defense? Yea, right...
so far.....

our D has let us down
 

Rune

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Brilliant post right there.

What have The Marlins done to show that they have a high quality defense. I've seen The Marlins play against The Mets, Braves, and Phils and have not seen what you have just said.

Average at best this year.
 

DurableTear

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Our D has let us down..

Our hitting with RISP is crappy...


:plain
 

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