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McKeon: "Now it's up to the players"


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Now that the front office has stepped up and filled the most glaring holes in the Marlins roster by acquiring an All-Star catcher, a premium set-up man and a proven run-producer, manager Jack McKeon said it's up to the players to reward management's confidence by making a run at another playoff berth.


'What they did was a definite sign of saying, 'Hey, we're doing what we can. We got you the resources,' '' McKeon said. ''Now it's up to the players. We've got to start doing it on the field. We can't talk about it anymore. We've got to do it.''


It was general manager Admin Beinfest's mid-July trade for closer Ugueth Urbina that ignited the Marlins' championship drive a year ago. But the Marlins were two games over .500 and in the thick of the wild-card race when that deal went down. After Sunday's game against Montreal was rained out, the Marlins headed into the final two months of the season at 52-52, 5 ? games -- and five teams -- back in the wild-card race.


''We're going to have to pick up some ground quick,'' McKeon said. ''With the new makeup of our club, you feel much better about where you're going with [58] games to go. It's not inconceivable that we could put a streak together.''


Friday's six-player deal with the Dodgers strengthened the Marlins behind the plate, where Paul Lo Duca takes over for Mike Redmond, and gave the lineup more balance with Lo Duca, a career .285 hitter, and Juan Encarnaci?n, who averaged 21 homers and 89 RBI the past two seasons, batting behind All-Stars Mike Lowell and Miguel Cabrera. It also gave the Marlins more team speed and improved their defense, with Encarnaci?n taking over in right field and Cabrera moving back to left, where he's far more comfortable.


In the bullpen, Guillermo Mota, one of the National League's top relievers, will be counted on to get the game to closer Armando Benitez, just as he set up Eric Gagn? the past season and a half in Los Angeles.


''They made themselves better in the bullpen, they strengthened themselves in the catcher's department . . . and Encarnaci?n will help offensively,'' Montreal manager Frank Robinson said. ''They are better overall than before the trades.''




To do that, however, the Marlins traded a hard-throwing starter in right-hander Brad Penny, a promising left-handed hitter in first baseman Hee Seop Choi and the team's top minor-league pitcher in left-hander Bill Murphy -- a high price that will look even more costly if the Marlins fail to reach the playoffs.


In separate deals, the team also acquired reliever Rudy Seanez from Kansas City in exchange for outfielder Abraham Nu?ez and right-hander Ismael Valdez for minor-league pitcher Travis Chick.


''As players, sure it energizes you,'' Redmond said of the trades, which remake a quarter of the team's starting lineup and a third of its bullpen. ''It pumps you up. . . . we're all on the same page. We all want to win, and we all want to get back to the World Series.


''I think every guy that was a part of that last year, including our ownership, realizes how much fun it was. And how that's what baseball is all about: It's about winning. We want to do that again.


''The bottom line is now we have to go out and win ballgames. Now it's up to us.''




It wasn't always like that, of course. Two years ago the Marlins were gathering for a push at a wild-card playoff berth when Beinfest pulled the rug out from under them, trading Cliff Floyd and Ryan Dempster in separate deals during the All-Star break. As it turned out, five players acquired in those deals -- Encarnaci?n, Ryan Snare, Mike Mordecai, Carl Pavano and Don Levinski -- played roles in the Marlins' World Series victory.


For the players, however, those trades were an act of surrender.


''That kind of chips away at your desire,'' Lowell said.


But those days now seem far away, said Lowell, who believes it's far better to receive than it is to give when it comes to midseason trades.


''With this move, I think they believe in us, and it gives you an extra boost,'' he said. ''It's a big support feeling that we're on the same page, upper management and the guys on the field. For me, the season starts today and we've got to make our run.''



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