MLB NL East — 03 March 2011

Many projected the youthful Florida Marlins to strongly contend for the National League East last season, but things didn’t necessarily go according to plan. The team finished 80-82 and in third place in the division, and fired manager Fredi Gonzalez midway through the season. Gonzalez and superstar shortsop Hanley Ramirez were involved in a public spat after the manager benched the player following a lackadaisical play in the field, and things cratered from there. He was replaced with Edwin Rodriguez, and, after the season, the team removed the interim tag from his managerial title.

Despite the turmoil endured last season, the team once again has high hopes entering 2010. They traded slugging second baseman Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for a package including 2010 All-Star Omar Infante, and also signed veteran starter Javier Vazquez over the winter to a one year, $7 million contract. While he struggled for the Yankees last season, Vazquez, historically, has enjoyed much more success in the NL, and the Marlins expect him to regain his old form this season.

Florida has made the playoffs just twice since coming into the league in 1993, but wound up winning the World Series in both seasons. Needless to say, they’ll try to make it three-for-three in 2011.

Key Additions: Javier Vazquez, Omar Infante, John Buck

Key Losses: Dan Uggla, Cameron Maybin, Ronny Paulino

Lineup:

C: John Buck

1B: Gaby Sanchez

2B: Omar Infante

3B: Wes Helms

SS: Hanley Ramirez

LF: Logan Morrison

CF: Chris Coghlan

RF: Mike Stanton

Rotation:

1. Josh Johnson

2. Javier Vazquez

3. Ricky Nolasco

4. Chris Volstad

5. Anibal Sanchez

CL: Leo Nunez

Critical Players to Success:

Chris Coghlan: Coghlan won the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year award after ranking second on the team with a .321 average, but went into a massive sophomore slump last season, when he hit just .268. He was sidelined with nagging injuries for much of the season (including an embarrassing moment during which he suffered a torn meniscus while trying to shove a shaving cream pie into a teammate’s face following a victory), which limited his success at the plate. If he can get back to full health (he’s being held out of all Spring Training road games for the next two weeks with a knee injury), we’ve seen what kind of impact he’s capable of making. The Fish have some young power in the middle of that lineup, and will depend on the guys at the top of the order to get on base and make things happen in front of them.

Javier Vazquez: We mentioned Vazquez’s struggles last season (5.32 ERA), but he’s been historically a much better pitcher in the National League. Just two years ago, when he was with Atlanta, the now-34-year-old enjoyed what may have been the best season of his career, when he posted a 2.87 ERA and a 15-10 record. He’s been amazingly durable throughout his lengthy pro career, so, at the very least, he can be a big-time innings-eater for the Marlins. Josh Johnson is the unquestioned ace of the staff, but Florida will need someone else to pick up the slack behind him. Vazquez is capable of being that guy.

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Taylor Smith

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