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Marlins need B&B to be aces


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Marlins need B&B to be aces

 

By Greg Stoda

 

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

 

Sunday, January 30, 2005

 

It's time for the sooner-or-later worlds of Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett to spin into the now world of the Florida Marlins.

 

Because the worth of those two no-longer-kids pitchers ? Beckett will be 25 in May and Burnett is 28 ? will do more than anything else to determine the worth of the team.

 

Sure, the lineup looks wonderful. There is speed and guile in Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo at the top of the order. There is power aplenty from Miguel Cabrera to Carlos Delgado through Mike Lowell in the middle. There is lots of good stuff near and at the bottom with Paul Lo Duca, Jeff Conine or Juan Encarnacion and Alex Gonzalez.

 

There are questions, to be sure, and the secondary one concerns Guillermo Mota assuming the closer's role in place of Armando Benitez (47 saves in 51 chances with a 1.29 ERA and a yield of a .152 batting average).

 

That's correct. The secondary concern.

 

The primary worry? That's at the front of the starting rotation, where Beckett-Burnett Inc., (or Burnett-Beckett Inc., if that's how it works out) must emerge as a consistently strong combination if the Marlins are to matter in the National League.

 

Al Leiter and Dontrelle Willis and Ismael Valdez might be very nice as a conglomerate of starters in the 3-4-5 places in the rotation. But they had better be required to be nothing more than complementary parts to The B&B Boys, because the odds are long that any of them will churn out the kind of 18-win season Carl Pavano provided the Marlins last season.

 

Pavano's performance amounted to a baby-sitting job with Beckett and Burnett, because he assumed the role of staff ace. He was the stopper. He was the innings-eater. And now he's gone to the New York Yankees.

 

Not that either Beckett or Burnett needs to win 18 games for the Marlins to challenge for a playoff spot. But they might have to win 15 apiece for Florida to stay with Atlanta in the NL East. Warning: Burnett's 12-win season in 2002 is the high-water mark for either man.

 

"How can you pick against the Braves?" Marlins manager Jack McKeon said the other day. "They've done it over and over again."

 

That assessment is praise to Atlanta's dominance within the division but ignores the Marlins' 2003 World Series championship. McKeon's point, however, was that Florida's title run was more a function of catch-the-heat momentum than sustained soundness.

 

And it's Beckett and Burnett, as a tandem, best equipped to change that Marlins dynamic.

 

Inconsistent in the past

 

Are they up to the task?

 

Beckett was on the disabled list three times last season (blisters, mostly) and, basically, lost all of June and July.

 

Burnett missed all but a peek of the 2003 championship season and much of last season after having Tommy John surgery.

 

So, there are the medical reports.

 

Now, try on the math.

 

Beckett and Burnett have pitched in the same season for the Marlins four times. They went a combined 13-14, 18-16, 9-10 and 16-15 in the past four years. They combined to make 31, 50, 27 and 45 starts in those respective seasons. That's a combined 56-55 record with an average of 38 starts between them through these formative seasons.

 

Not good enough. Not nearly good enough. Not when the Marlins are in need of 30-35 combined wins and at least 60 starts from their B&B Boys.

 

"We gotta have 'em," McKeon said. "I think they'll be fine. I'm not worried. But we gotta have 'em."

 

Literally, he was blowing cigar smoke. Figuratively, though, there was no smoke whatsoever.

 

Staying healthy the key

 

There have been too many questions and too many lingering doubts about Beckett, who gave flashes of greatness during Florida's rush to the 2003 crown when he was dominant through post-season assignments, and about Burnett, who was assumed to be on the cusp of greatness before his arm injury.

 

Have the Marlins been unlucky with their two young lead pitchers? Absolutely.

 

But if Beckett and Burnett do stay healthy, it's time for their promise and potential to blossom into performance. Because it's amazing how quickly sooner can turn into too late.

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