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Marlins Marching to Glory?


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c/o espn.insider.com

Suddenly, things are looking pretty 1997ish around the National League. If the season ended today, the playoffs would line up just like they did six years ago with the Giants drawing the Marlins and the Braves getting the Astros in the first round. We all remember how that one turned out -- the Marlins marched to glory.


Before they get to working on following that particular blueprint, there is the little matter of a trip to Philadelphia for a series that begins Tuesday night. Harold Reynolds said last night on ESPN's Baseball Tonight that he thought the Marlins -- with their speed game -- actually had an advantage over the Phillies at the soon-to-be-imploded Veterans Stadium. With so few turf stadiums left, the sample sizes for the away teams aren't really big enough to get an accurate read as to how good they really are on the stuff.


This is what we do know: The Marlins have attempted ten steals at the Vet this year and been successful every time. The Phillies are the worst team in the league against the stolen base. The Marlins are seven for nine on the road against Montreal, which is a more impressive feat since they are the best team against the steal. Overall, the Marlins stealing record on turf (17 for 19) is much better than their record on grass (127 for 196).


Juan Pierre and the Marlins will be off and running against the Phillies.

Whether running or not, if the Marlins can take two out of three in Philadelphia, they will have given themselves a little breathing room in the wild-card race. A sweep would just about doom the Phillies to an offseason of examining where they went wrong. On the other side of the coin, if the Phillies can take two of three or sweep, then it is probable that the race will go to the final weekend.


Speaking of wild-card teams, how important is their seeding in terms of how they fare in the postseason? By "seeding" I don't mean where Major League Baseball puts them in the playoffs, but where they actually finish the regular season compared to other teams in the league. For instance, it's looking like a possibility that both 2003 wild-card teams will have the third-best record in their respective leagues. Last year, the Angels (third) and Giants (fourth) both made it to the World Series as wild cards. Overall, Wildcard teams have played .500 ball in the postseason (69-69). That is broken down as follows:


Postseason record of wild cards with second-best record: 18-17

Most successful team: '97 Marlins -- World Champions


Postseason record of wild cards with third-best record: 18-15

Most successful team: '02 Angels -- World Champions


Postseason record of wild cards with fourth-best record: 31-35

Most successful team: '02 Giants -- National League Champions


The wild-card concept is still fairly new to baseball, so these numbers don't represent a lot of teams -- 16 in all.


This year's Marlins are projecting to 90 wins, two shy of what their '97 compatriots did. In terms of run differential, they are about the same, playing like teams that would win around 88 games. I thought it might be interesting to compare that lineup -- a number of whom are still playing starring roles around baseball -- with this year's model and see which team has the advantage on a position-by-position basis;



Charles Johnson vs. Pudge Rodriguez

Johnson has been off the radar for a couple of years now but he had it all in '97 on both sides of the ball. It's probably too close to call as to which had the better season, although a big finish for Pudge would give the edge to him.



Jeff Conine vs. Derek Lee

Conine is back on the team now. Lee is having a pretty nice season, much better than Conine's '97 effort.



Luis Castillo (and Craig Counsell and Kurt Abbott) vs. Luis Castillo

This version of Castillo gets the nod over young Luis and his friends.



Bobby Bonilla vs. Mike Lowell Lowell would have a bigger advantage over Bonilla had he not broken his hand a couple of weeks back. He is expected to return for the final two games of the year and be ready for the playoffs.


SS Edgar Renteria vs. Alex Gonzalez This is not the 2003 Renteria, remember, a player having a better year than Gonzalez. Nor is this the 2001-02 Gonzalez, either. So, while you wouldn't take the 2003 Gonzalez over the 2003 Renteria, you'd definitely want him over the 1997 Renteria, a player who had yet to his sride.



Moises Alou vs. Todd Hollandsworth Alou probably had the best season of any '97 Marlins player, so he gets the nod here by a good measure.



Devon White vs. Juan Pierre I wasn't so thrilled for the Marlins when they traded for Pierre, but he has been pleasantly surprising. This is easily his best year in the bigs and, since White didn't play a full season, Pierre gets the check mark here.



Gary Sheffield vs. Juan Encarnacion A big nod to Sheffield who, while not having the kind of season he is in 2003, was still one of the mainstays of the club.


Dontrelle Willis has emerged as the ace of the Marlins' staff this season.


Kevin Brown vs. Dontrelle Willis Brown had the best year of any pitcher on either team, posting an ERA nearly a run and a-half below the league average. Willis has been the best of the Marlins' starters this year but had their been a veteran ace on hand like Brown, they probably would have clinched the Wildcard by now.



Alex Fernandez vs. Mark Redman In a better world, Fernandez would still be a cog in somebody's starting rotation. Instead, '97 was his last season before arm miseries sidetracked and ended his career. He had a much better year than either Redman or Josh Beckett.



Al Leiter and Livan Hernandez vs. Josh Beckett and Carl Pavano

There is not a lot separating these four. Hernandez pitched well in the NLCS and won and poorly in the World Series but won anyway. Leiter has done better since and it is likely that Beckett will someday as well.



Robb Nen vs. Braden Looper

Nen was very close to the league ERA in '97. They're actually pretty comparable with perhaps a slight edge to Looper. Remember -- and this is hard to do -- we're not talking about the same Nen who came later, the one who dominated. 1997 represents one of his lesser seasons.

nice comparisons but why do they have Holly in LF? nonetheless, Alou gets the edge there

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Good article. I do think we have a better team than in 97.


The players that were on the 97 team are doing way better now but this club has alot of young players that contribute so much while in the 97 season there were alot of veterans. Thats hard to do ( Young Players carrying the team).


I hope we can at least make it to the play offs this season....

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