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If it is not one thing it is another for the Marlins the past three weeks.  The Marlins dropped three of four to the Diamondbacks this weekend and have lost 14 of their last 17 games.  Thanks to a 1-10 home stand the Marlins have dropped a game under .500 going into a four game series against the Philadelphia Phillies, which they dropped the first game 9-1.  So what happened?  What caused the Marlins to go from having the second best record in the NL to now being below .500?

Most people would probably point out that the Marlins have had their two superstars, Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez, go on the DL during this stretch, and the Marlins have also the two cornerstones of their bullpen, Clay Hensely and Leo Nunez, get banged up as well.  While those are obvious reason, they are really just the surface problems that the Marlins have.  The real major issues are that this team just can not score runners when men are on base.  In the Marlins 11 game home stand they went 22-93 with runners in scoring position (10 of those hits came on the last game of the series) and left 102 men on base.  During that same time the Marlins gave up on average five runs per game while only scoring three and a half.  The problem is now such that when a Marlins player, whoever he is, comes to the plate he is pressing to try and get that runner in, but when you press like that it tends to lead to more outs.  The Marlins poor situational caused them to fire their hitting coach and hire Eduardo Perez to replace him.  While this may end up being a good move, it is doubtful any meaningful results will be seen in the next week or so. 

The other issues happened to be that earlier in the year the Marlins were winning despite some major issues.  Early this season the Marlins were winning despite Mike Stanton, Omar Infante, John Buck, and Hanley Ramirez all getting off to bad starts from the plate, and Javier Vazquez was an automatic loss from the mound.  The Marlins were able to luck out in that Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez all played like All-Stars for the first month and a half of the season, and despite some poor stretches the bullpen was one of the best in baseball.  While most people knew that the numbers these guys were putting up would at some point dip a bit, it was thought that it should even out with the other Marlins players raising their performances.  Unfortunately, outside of Mike Stanton, that has not really been the case.  Chris Coghlan and Omar Infante were expected to bat in the one and two spots this year because of their ability to get on base and hit for average, but at this point they are hitting .235 and .258 respectively.  Hanley Ramirez was never able to get out of his early season slump before going to the DL, John Buck is batting .230, Javier Vazquez except for two starts has been disastrous, and Chris Volstad seems to alternate between good and poor performances.

The Marlins also got news today that Josh Johnson really may not be back in the starting rotation for another month.  This calamity of problems the Marlins are facing it is going to be interesting to see how they are going to respond as the chips seem pretty stacked against them.  Even when the Marlins finish their current series against the Phillies, they still face, Tampa Bay, Los Angles Angles, Seattle, Oakland, Texas and the Phillies again before they get to face an easy opponent in the Houston Astros on July 7, and during that stretch they get a total of two days off.

Maybe the biggest question they face going forward is what to do with Javier Vazquez.  The Marlins signed him to a one year seven million dollar deal be the number three/four starter on this team and it has not worked out (putting it lightly).  Unfortunately currently their is nothing that the Marlins can really do.  With Josh Johnson on the DL and Sean West and Alex Sanabia getting over injuries of their own, the Marlins are being forced to use minor league pitchers who other wise might be a year or so away from being really ready for a major league start.  I was on the side that said that thought Marlins fans were crazy for wanting to send him down to the minors earlier this season, but after 13 starts, only three of which were quality starts, and an ERA that at its lowest point was 6.02 but currently is 7.09, I have flipped sides.  I now think that as soon as Josh Johnson gets off the DL and either Sanabia or West is healthy enough you bring one of those two pitchers up.  First off they can not do any worse that Javy is doing right now, and even if they are not doing that much better you can still prepare one of them to be a fifth starter in 2012.

However, even though as I writing this it looks as though the Marlins are about to go three games under .500, all should not be considered lost.  Yes the Marlins are in the same division as arguably the two best teams in the NL, the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, their is some hope for them.  The NL has for the past several years always had one team that was teetering on the verge of not in contention at the middle of the season storm back with a great second half and either just miss or in some cases do actually get into the playoffs.  During this stretch of losing the Marlins still have Gaby Sanchez playing as one of the best statistical first basemen in the NL (Go to Vote For Gaby to see the comparison), Ricky Nolasoco and Anibal Sanchez who are still having very good years despite some resent horrifying starts, and the bullpen is nothing close to as bad as they were in 2010.  If the Marlins could just get players like Coghlan, Infante, and Ramirez to play close to their averages for the rest of the season, then the Marlins could still turn this season around and content.