In 2011, the Florida Marlins shot out of the month of May with more momentum than anybody in baseball. They were two games out of first place in the NL East, and with a good June, they could have carried their momentum into the All-Star break, every team’s first-half goal. But the Fish slumped in June; they won just 7 games and fell into the cellar of the NL East, where they finished the season.
Deja Vu is sweeping through the Miami Marlins’ front office in this June of 2012, as Miami started the month in a first place tie, but have already fallen into 4th, and have lost 8 of their last 9. So what is it that drives this team to win during streaky-hot May months, but stop playing well in record-low June months?
I had a hypothesis last year as I was writing a similar post about a June slump. Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson were both on the disabled list. JJ and Hanley, the two reigning Marlins All-Stars, were the catalysts of the team. Every Johnson start was practically a guaranteed win, and his injury caused unease to the rotation. Even without major production from Ramirez in the first two months of the ’11 campaign, his presence in the lineup still appeared to positively affect the team.
But this year, the cause is unclear. On paper, the Marlins have one of the best rosters in the game. Every infield starter is a former All-Star, even John Buck had made the AL team in 2010. Giancarlo Stanton was of course a break-out sensation, and he has luckily lived up to the expectations. In the rotation, Josh Johnson is a Cy Young candidate every healthy season, Mark Buehrle has a perfect game under his belt, Carlos Zambrano was the long-time ace in the Cubs’ rotation, Ricky Nolasco is the Marlins’ all-time wins leader, and Anibal Sanchez can become as good as anyone when he is hot. Not much, as far as the roster goes, changed from May to June, however, production has gone way down.
The most likely reason for the team’s demise is the simple absence of one of the most underrated players in baseball-Emilio Bonifacio. In fact, he was so good this year that even with a four-week absence, he still has the second-most stolen bases in the majors. His batting average might not be the best, but his attendance on base is good enough to make up for it. The kid doesn’t hit homers, like the world wants to see nowadays, but he slaps singles, lays down drag bunts, and wreaks havoc on the defense. A single for him turns into a double or triple by means of his speed on the bases. With that, he jump-starts Miami’s offense, and without him, the team is sluggish.
On defense, Bonifacio’s speed allows him to reach balls shot in the deep, dark alleys of Marlins Park faster than anyone. How does this make a difference? Last night, the Red Sox used small ball to record their first run, which they would not have been able to do had it not been for the centerfielder. Mike Aviles led off the third with a line drive to left-center, which was cut off by Justin Ruggiano (CF), but Ruggiano bobbled the ball allowing Aviles to scoot to second. He advanced to third on a bunt, and came home on a groundout, a great manufacturing job by Boston. But had Bonifacio been in centerfield, he would have been able to get to the ball quicker and come around on it, field it straight up, and likely cleanly Ruggiano had to cut it off on the run, causing him trouble fielding it. That’s a whole run that Boni would have been able to save by his mere defensive presence.
One player, however, does not compose a team. The Miami Marlins need to figure out some way to score runs in June. They are averaging barely 2.5 runs per game this month, a dismal figure that cannot squeeze out a sufficient amount of wins. To put it in a Yogism: “It’s Deja Vu all over again!” One thing is for sure, the Marlins do not like June.