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Respect From Gammons


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Marlins' staff could own NL East

 

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By Peter Gammons

Special to ESPN.com

 

 

April 19

 

Alyssa Milano was at Pro Player watching Carl Pavano. Leeann Tweeden was at another game to see Josh Beckett. In a year, the Marlins have gone from South Florida cable access to Access Hollywood, with Bulgari rings to show for it.

 

But while the little girls understand -- as Howlin' Wolf would put it -- the media didn't, at least not completely. With the exception of the '98 Marlins, who were dismantled long before they were dismantled, there has been no world champion in recent memory that garnered so little attention the following spring. "In some ways, I understand it," says Marlin GM Admin Beinfest. "We lost some very good players, like Pudge (Rodriguez), Derrek Lee and Ugie Urbina. But we also got a very good player back like Hee Seop Choi, and we signed Armando Benitez, who we believed would be very successful in our environment. And we also believed that our young pitchers would get better."

 

The mistakes in dismissing the Marlins were twofold: 1) their talent level last season was under-appreciated in October -- the only positional player from the Giants who would have started for Florida was Barry Bonds and the only Cubs position players who would have started for the Marlins were Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou -- and 2) the potential for a young starting rotation and 21-year-old (as of Sunday) franchise player who at this time last season was in Double-A to improve is virtually immeasurable.

 

Just as, after winning nine of their first 10 games, it would have been a mistake for the Marlins to write off any Bobby Cox team or the talented Phillies (despite Tyler Houston's prediction in his column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal). Over the weekend, the Braves swept the Phish, while the Phillies swept struggling Montreal.

 

"We did what we could do within the constraints of our budget," says Beinfest. "People saw that Choi batted .218, but we believe he has the potential to hit, which he did in the minor leagues." Choi worked tirelessly this spring with Marlins hitting coach Bill Robinson, who is slowly breaking Choi of his habit of starting his swing by dipping, then coming back up, one of the reasons he sometimes had trouble catching up to above-average fastballs on the inner half. "We knew that while Benitez didn't have a good year, he has great stuff and needed an environment in which he was comfortable. Which has happened. He's very popular here," added Beinfest. For the record, Benitez was 117-for-129 in save opportunities from 2000-2002, while Urbina was 72-for-88 over those same years.

 

The Marlins beat the Yankees because of their young power pitchers, and while Beckett and Brad Penny weren't at a star level when they dazzled New York, they came back this year not boastful of their October glory, but determined to apply what they experienced toward memorable careers. "What we learned was that it's a lot of fun when you perform and win," says Penny, who during the postseason went from a thrower to a pitcher. "We learned what it takes to be successful, and we all wanted to apply it and carry it further."

 

Penny and Beckett reported to spring training in the best shape of their young careers. Pavano reported in even better shape than last season, when his career took off. And Dontrelle Willis is ... just ... Mr. Energy, Enthusiasm and Intensity, and such a great athlete. Highlights of his first two brilliant starts were a monster homer, going 6-for-6 and a headfirst slide across home plate. Through April 18, he had more RBI than any Expo except Jose Vidro. Through Sunday, the foursome was 6-3, 1.74 ERA, with a 69-21 strikeout-walk ratio.

 

"I love the contrast," says one NL scout. "Beckett can be Kerry Wood. Penny is a 240-inning horse who can win 20 games. Willis has tightened his delivery and is dominating. And Pavano throws 91-94, changes speeds and could be a bigger draw on the free-agent market than Matt Morris."

 

Miguel Cabrera is already second in the league in homers, with Choi right behind. The rest of the lineup has struggled as Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo have started slowly. But the message is clear. For years teams had to beat the Braves' pitching to win the NL East. Now we're nearing the point where they have to beat the Marlins' starters to win the NL East.

 

 

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/gammons/story?id=1785401

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Wow, good words from Mr. Red Sox himself.

 

I can't believe he said:

 

only positional player from the Giants who would have started for Florida was Barry Bonds and the only Cubs position players who would have started for the Marlins were Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou

or:

 

For years teams had to beat the Braves' pitching to win the NL East. Now we're nearing the point where they have to beat the Marlins' starters to win the NL East.

 

Looks like we are finally getting some respect from Gammons. I'm amazed.

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