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The Big Three carry the Marlins in 1st Half !


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MIAMI -- For the most part, the "Big Three" have done their part.

Entering the season, so much of the Marlins' success was placed on the shoulders of starting pitchers Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis.

At the midseason point, the talented trio has not disappointed. Willis has been arguably the best all-around pitcher in the game, becoming an All-Star for the second time in his three-year career.

And aside from a few setbacks physically, Beckett and Burnett have held up. Beckett did miss two starts because a blister landed him on the disabled list in mid-June. He also headed back to the disabled list before the All-Star break with a strained oblique.

Burnett skipped one start because of elbow inflammation, but he is again healthy and blowing batters away with 100 mph heat.

Thanks largely to the "Big Three," the Marlins remain in the playoff hunt, despite having a somewhat disappointing first half. They've combined for nine complete games and six shutouts. Compare that to last year, when the Marlins logged six complete games and three shutouts.

If the Marlins are indeed going to make a serious second-half run, the starting trio will have to do most of the heavy lifting.

"Coming into the year, that was supposed to be one of our strengths," Beckett said of the young starters. "I think for most of the year, we've held up our bargain."

After staying within striking distance in the first half, Burnett sees no reason why the Marlins shouldn't win the National League East.

"I don't want the Wild Card, I want to win the division," Burnett said. "We've got enough talent, and I don't want to settle for the Wild Card."

In the eyes of many personnel evaluators around the league, the combination of Beckett, Burnett and Willis is as good as any threesome in the game. The rotation received a major boost with the emergence of veteran Brian Moehler, who has bounced back from Tommy John surgery in 2003 to become a stellar starter who has logged innings. With any run support, Moehler's record would be substantially better. Still, despite his hardships, he's kept his team in the game on many occasions. It's been a successful road to recovery for Moehler, who was in the Braves' farm system (Double-A) a year ago.

"We had a guy fill in who I can't believe was in Double-A last year," Beckett said. "He was in Double-A last year and he's had a 3.00 ERA for the first half."

A non-roster invitee to Spring Training, Moehler joined the rotation because projected fifth starter Ismael Valdez has been out all season with a fracture to his right fibula.

The way Moehler has performed in the first half causes Willis to ruffle a bit when you refer to the Marlins' "Big Three."

"When you're pitching, you don't think about that," Willis says of being lumped together with Beckett and Burnett. "Moehler goes out there and does a great job. I'm real upset that people are sleeping on him. I really am. He's been consistent. He keeps the team in the game. That's our role. We have to keep our team in the game. That's all you can ask for in a pitcher. Keep your team in the game and stop people from scoring."

The disappointment of the staff has been 39-year-old Al Leiter, who has struggled with his command and issued a high number of walks. The veteran left-hander, who has won 10 or more games in 10 straight seasons, was relegated to the bullpen as the team is getting a look at rookie Scott Olsen, a callup from Double-A Carolina, who is showing promise with a moving fastball and biting slider.

For the Marlins to make their second-half push, the starters will again be asked to step up. There is speculation that Burnett, who will be a free agent after the season, will be traded by the July 31 deadline.

How the team is playing by then could dictate if a move is made. If Burnett stays, the Marlins are hopeful their young trio of power pitchers extends the season deep into October.

While Beckett understands the spotlight is on the pitchers, he points out that scoring enough runs to win is equally as important.

"The bottom line is you've got to score more runs than the other team," Beckett said. "That's what it's going to come down to. It is the bottom line. That's how you win ballgames, you score more runs. Some days, your pitching is going to carry you. Some days, hitting is going to carry you, you're going to win 5-4, 6-5."

Florida Marlins.com

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