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Surging Fish and Power Rankings


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c/o cnnsi.com

The Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees each have enjoyed extended stays atop the Power Rankings this season. And, hey, who wouldn't?


But none of them has played as well over the past four months as ... the Florida Marlins.


Since May 23, Jack McKeon's team is 64-37. That's the best record in either league during that time and good enough for a 1 ?-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League wild-card race entering the season's final two weeks.


It's also nothing short of amazing, considering that this is the same team that began the season so poorly that manager Jeff Torborg, despite a 20-year friendship with owner Jeffrey Loria, was jettisoned May 10 and replaced by the 72-year-old McKeon.


Even in July, the Marlins were so unsure of their postseason prospects that third baseman Mike Lowell, their best offensive player, was the subject of one cost-cutting trade rumor after another. Things looked especially bleak after they dropped eight out of nine in late August, then lost Lowell to a broken hand.


But the Marlins, ranked No. 7 in this week's Power Rankings, are 12-3 since then, taking two out of three from the Braves over the weekend in Miami. And here they are, on the verge of their first postseason appearance since beating the Cleveland Indians in the 1997 World Series.


They're not the kind of team that blows you away. Sure, Lowell was having a fine season (.277, 32 home runs, 105 RBIs) before he got hurt, 20-year-old rookie Miguel Cabrera has been a surprise impact player, and Pudge Rodriguez (.305-16-81) seems to have rejuvenated his career. And, yeah, 21-year-old rookie Dontrelle Willis (13-6, 3.27 ERA) has been a terrific shot in the arm, both on and off the field. Nevertheless, the Marlins rank in the middle of the NL pack in both hitting and pitching.


No, the main reason the Marlins are where they are is cigar-smoking McKeon, who has lit a fire under them with his cranky, old-school style. While Torborg babied the youthful team, McKeon got in their faces. He's had public spats with pitchers Brad Penny and Tim Spooneybarger, and handed out more than a little tough love.


And it has worked. With 13 games to play, the Marlins control their destiny. They open a three-game series Tuesday night at Philadelphia, then play a four-game set in Atlanta before returning home for three with the Phillies and three more with the Mets.


The Philadelphia games should be especially interesting. Florida is 9-4 against the Phillies this season, and McKeon remarked a few days back that Phillies manager Admin Bowa seemed to be panicking. The irascible Bowa, who managed for McKeon in San Diego in 1987-88, snapped back, "If they're worried about other teams, they have problems."


Who could ask for a more entertaining finish? Not Marlins first baseman Derrek Lee.


"A lot of us have been here five or six years, and September has always been when you're making offseason plans," Lee siad. "But right now we're in it, and this is what the game is all about, trying to get into the playoffs and win a championship."




CNNSI.com Power Rankings

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