As usual, the Florida Marlins are operating on a small budget. And as usual, they're pretty good despite this.
Per Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Marlins' opening day payroll was $47,429,719, one of the lowest in the big leagues. Nate Robertson ($10 million this year) is their highest-paid player, followed by Dan Uggla ($7.8 million) and Hanley Ramirez ($7 million). But the Marlins are also getting by with a whole bunch of young players making the league minimum.
And the strategy works. Despite the low payroll, the Marlins put a good team out there. Currently, they're 9-7, though they're coming off losing two of three to the Astros (who are a pretty bad team.) That said, this is a dangerous series for the Rockies. The Rockies sure could use a series win, after splitting a four-game series with the Nationals. I'd like to see the Rockies get a few games above .500.
The Marlins have three solidly above average hitters: shortstop Ramirez (.306/.411/.419), third baseman Jorge Cantu (.297/.343/.578), and second baseman Dan Uggla (.333/.377/.556). First baseman Gaby Sanchez (.280/.379/.480) completes what's a pretty solid infield from an offensive standpoint -- though from a defensive standpoint, it's a pretty weak infield, with Cantu and Uggla both being significantly below average and Ramirez generally being an average to below-average shortstop. The early returns on Sanchez aren't great, either, and he was below average at first base in AAA last year.
So far, the Marlins' outfield has been struggling, but right fielder Cody Ross (.250/.284/.344) is coming off two solid years with the bat, while left fielder Chris Coghlan (.123/.167/.123) is coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign, so both should be better than what they've done so far. Center fielder Cameron Maybin (.284/.342/.388) is young and has a ton of potential. Coghlan and Ross are both below average defensively, but Maybin (who was 17 runs above average in AAA last season, per TotalZone) mitigates that somewhat.
The Marlins have a de facto platoon behind the dish, with lefty-hitting John Baker (.302/.375/.372) and righty-hitting Ronny Paulino (.261/.320/.478) both decent hitters. Expect to see Paulino in two games, tonight (against Greg Smith) and Sunday (against Jorge.) Aside from Paulino, the Marlins' bench doesn't see much action. Wes Helms (.429/.500/.571 in 16 PA) is the primary pinch hitter and can fill in at third and first; Brett Carroll (.357/.357/.643 in 14 PA) is the fourth outfielder. Mike Lamb (.000/.000/.000 in 10 PA) is the lefty pinch hitter, but as his line might suggest, he isn't hitting much right now. Brian Barden is mostly used as a defensive sub; he can handle all four infield positions, and pretty well, which is a big deal on a team with a bad infield defense.
Usual starting lineup:
The good news in this series is that the Rockies will miss Marlins ace Josh Johnson. The three starters lined up are Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 3.74) on Friday, Nate Robertson (2-0, 2.20) on Saturday, and Chris Volstad (1-1, 3.79) on Sunday.
Nolasco is typically a big strikeout guy (195 in 185 IP in 2009), though he hasn't been so far this year (13 in 21 IP). He was excellent in his last outing against the Phillies, tossing a complete game on 109 pitches. He's benefited so far from good run support (5.28 per start) and a good BABIP (.217) which figures to go up at Coors Field, particularly with a pretty below-average defense behind him. On the other hand, the Rockies' lineup seems like a good one for Nolasco to boost his strikeout numbers. For his career, though, Nolasco is 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA against the Rockies -- including 2-0, 1.93 at Coors Field.
Robertson typically isn't a strikeout guy (K/9 of 6.0, 5.8, and 6.3 in his last three seasons) and is coming off two subpar seasons, though in 2009 he was better as a starter (3.86 ERA) than in relief (7.48) for Detroit. He's been lucky, though not overwhelmingly so, on balls in play (.265 BABIP.) The Marlins typically haven't given him a ton of run support (4.03 per start), but he hasn't really needed it; he threw 6.1 shutout innings in his last start. Robertson has only faced the Rockies twice in his nine-year career (mostly in the AL), and he has a 7.36 ERA against them.
Volstad relies on pitching to contact, which you'd think would be a bad formula for success with the Marlins' defense, but it hasn't hurt him so far this year; a .222 BABIP has a lot to do with that. As bad as the Marlins' defense is on paper, it's a bit odd that two of their starting pitchers in this series have so far benefited from good luck on balls in play; Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, the two starters that the Rockies won't face, have had average or worse luck. Volstad, after three straight quality starts despite only 8 strikeouts in 19 IP, seems due to get lit up. The Rockies have done pretty well against him, as Volstad has a 1.72 WHIP (but a 3.50 ERA) against the Rockies.
The bullpen is not great. Leo Nunez (0.00 ERA, 3/4 save ops) has been solid as a closer, but was pretty iffy last season, when he blew 7 of 33 save opportunities. His command is spotty (4 BB in 7.1 IP). Clay Hensley (1.59 ERA) works the eighth inning, while Burke Badenhop (2.53 ERA) looks like the seventh-inning guy, though he's capable of pitching multiple innings (and has this season.) Tim Wood (9.45 ERA) occasionally gets into the late-inning mix, though as the ERA suggests he's been rather ineffective, while Renyel Pinto (2.25 ERA) is the lefty specialist. Dan Meyer (19.29 ERA) has been lit up in his last two outings. Recent callup Chris Leroux (1.80 ERA) is the mopup guy. The bullpen has a 5.05 ERA on the season, as compared to a 3.78 ERA for the starters. While a lot of the bullpen struggles have to do with a couple of guys (Meyer and the since-demoted Jose Veras), it's not as if the Marlins have a bunch of guys who you look at and say "these guys should be better than this." It's mostly a collection of scrap-heap guys; Hensley, the de facto setup man at present, didn't pitch in the majors at all in 2009.
Only one of the pitching matchups (Volstad vs. de la Rosa, Sunday) favors the Rockies, while Nolasco-Smith favors the Marlins. The swing game in the series is likely the Robertson-Cook matchup on Saturday.