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Marlins getting respect from Philly Paper


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Pitching nucleus makes Marlins tough to catch


By Jim Salisbury


Inquirer Staff Writer



The Florida Marlins were baseball's best story in 2003.


They made daring changes in personnel and management throughout the season until achieving the mix that allowed them to overtake the Phillies in the National League wild-card race.


With the Phils in their dust, the Marlins rolled through the playoffs and won their second World Series in seven years.


As if the Phils needed any reminder of their blown chance, they will be in Miami this coming weekend when the Marlins receive their World Series rings.


It will be enough to make manager Admin Bowa stew.


Bowa presides over the team many believe will win the NL East this season. Still, he remains wary of the Braves and the Marlins - and the Expos and the Mets, too.


"The Braves have won 12 straight division titles," Bowa said. "And the Marlins are the defending World Series champions. If you don't respect them, you need to have your head examined."


Reliever John Smoltz, the elder statesman of the Braves, agreed.


"Top to bottom, the Marlins still have the hardest-throwing pitching staff in the division," he said. "They were the most intimidating team in baseball the last five weeks of last season, and it started with pitching. Now they have that much more experience. They'll be tough."


That pitching staff, led by World Series MVP Josh Beckett, is the reason the Marlins will continue to be factors in the division, even after losing four key players from their title team - catcher Pudge Rodriguez, closer Ugueth Urbina, first baseman Derrek Lee, and outfielder Juan Encarnacion.


Ramon Castro and Mike Redmond will catch. Volatile Armando Benitez is the new closer. Hee Seop Choi takes over at first base, and Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine will be in the outfield for a full season.


"Everybody talks about how we're going to miss Pudge and Lee, but we've got Cabrera and Conine for a full year," manager Jack McKeon said. "We've got nine guys who are pretty solid in this lineup."


Cabrera and Conine were two in-season additions made by general manager Admin Beinfest last year. Cabrera and lefty Dontrelle Willis, who became the NL rookie of the year, came up from double-A. Conine arrived in a July trade with Baltimore.


Of course, the biggest change made by the 2003 Marlins came on May 11, when they fired manager Jeff Torborg and brought McKeon out of retirement at age 72. Everything came together under McKeon's easy touch. The Marlins went 75-49 under McKeon and had the majors' best record after May 23.


They beat the Giants and the Cubs in the playoffs before conquering the Yankees in the World Series. McKeon puffed cigars and told jokes the whole way. But make no mistake, he knew what he was doing.


"Guys just play for Jack," one American League executive said. "It's that simple."


McKeon enjoyed a winter of celebrity, but now it's time to get down to business. He was pleased with the businesslike approach of his team in camp. The Marlins still have that hunger, and it starts at the top of the lineup, with the electric duo of Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo.


Third baseman Mike Lowell is healthy after having suffered a broken hand late last season, and Cabrera looks like a superstar in the making after having hit .282 with eight homers and 48 RBIs in the second half last season. He homered four times in the postseason.


Not bad for a guy who doesn't turn 21 until April 18.


But the thing that makes the Marlins formidable again is their starting pitching.


Teams hit just .145 against Beckett in the postseason, and he clinched the World Series title with a complete-game gem in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium - on three days' rest.


After Beckett, the Marlins have Willis, Brad Penny and Carl Pavano. A.J. Burnett, who underwent elbow surgery, could be back in May.


"This is a potentially great staff," McKeon said. "They haven't put it all together yet. But potentially, they could be the best staff in baseball in two years."


They're not bad right now. And neither are the rest of the Marlins.

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:thumbup nice read..... he's part of a small population of people who are truly objective about basbeall. Anyone that knows this team even a little would not be so quick to dismiss them. Makes me wonder about people like Rob Dibble, (Former Major League Pitcher Himself) and how the hell he can know so little about the game.

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Guest FishFanInPA

This would be the same paper that in their baseball preview made mention to the fact that the Marlins were considering starting the season with Josh Beckett as their closer. Other then Salisbery whose a good writer...the people here think that the Fish are as good as 3rd place and give them no shot.

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This would be the same paper that in their baseball preview made mention to the fact that the Marlins were considering starting the season with Josh Beckett as their closer. Other then Salisbery whose a good writer...the people here think that the Fish are as good as 3rd place and give them no shot.

I agree. I study at PENN in philly and people here don't give the Marlins any chance whatsoever. If the Phillies loose the division, it'll seem like a huge upset over here, even greater than last year's. I definitely think we have a good shot at beating the crap out of the Phils, their ST record sucked.

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ST records mean nothing. I think in '97, when the Marlins won it all, their record in ST wasnt so hot.


This was a good article. For once, someone didnt ignore the Marlins' strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. Sure, we lost some people, but the guys filling in for them are better in my opinion. (Obviously, you can argue against Castro being better than Fudge, but at this stage of his career, I would bet on Castro being better than Fudge. Certainly fits our team concept better.)


We have the pitching.


We have the defense.


The offense will struggle at times - but who's doesnt? This team will be very competitive and with their experience, chemistry, and daring - they could make up the difference. This team BELIEVES it will win and gets the job done. There is a lot of doubt when it comes down to it on the Phillies side.

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