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Marlins aren't one-year miracles


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by Jack McDowell, Yahoo! Sports

April 23, 2004





Most of us so-called experts may have underestimated the Florida Marlins this year.


After last season's unlikely wild-card berth and subsequent World Series victory, the Marlins still weren't household names. I picked them to finish third in the NL East.


While all the buzz in the offseason centered on names like Schilling, A-Rod, Pettitte, Clemens and Kevin Brown, the young Marlins matured a year and are proving in a hurry that their victory in the Series wasn't a fluke.


The bump coming into the 2004 campaign for the Marlins' starting staff was lack of a track record. Heck, Josh Beckett won only nine regular-season games last year before rolling through the playoffs, and while Dontrelle Willis was an early-season sensation who rushed to 10 wins, he ended a lot slower with only four in the second half.


Then Florida watched its closer, first baseman and star catcher leave for supposed greener pastures while the division-rival Phillies seemed to stack their deck and fill all of their holes.


Once again, folks, this is why we play the games.


Willis has started off even stronger than he did as a rookie. He has been dominating on the mound and has more hits already than many pitchers will have all year.


Beckett and Brad Penny's statistics have mirrored each other so far, establishing themselves within the upper echelon of starters. Carl Pavano remains consistently solid. The largest smile-maker in south Florida has to be Armando Benitez, who already has eight saves. His often-questioned control has been in check, and he has fit in well with this squad.


Hee Sop Choi has five homers already, and Mike Lowell and Miguel Cabrera have led the way offensively with 14 and 12 RBIs, respectively. The Marlins' stellar defense was never in question and remains solid. So what are the issues?


The Marlins will be made or broken in August and September. When young pitchers such as Beckett and Willis pitch well, innings begin to stack up. Neither has had a 200-inning campaign, but that will be inevitable if they continue to shine this year. It's a different ball game and a different grind late in the season with a lot of work under your belt. Just ask the Cubs' Kerry Wood and Mark Prior about that. Both threw tons of innings early because they were so dominating and suffered injuries the following year.


Armando Benitez will also be watched closely. While he has compiled 200 career saves, he has been known for wildness and inconsistency.


All in all, Florida is off to a great start for a young, successful team. But while the Marlins' improvement continues, so will the grind of the regular season.

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A lot still won't be believers until Boston goes down to the fish in the WS. I thought taking the bankies would be definitive, but apparently not... There is still one more mountain to climb.


Taking Boston would make believers out of even the most hardened cynics.

Nah! They'll blame it on Bill Buckner.

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