When Nationals Park opened in 2008, the franchises of the Washington Nationals and the then-Florida Marlins were in similar situations. Both teams had young cores of promising talent, and both possessed glimmers of hope with the prospects of new stadiums and rejuvenated fan bases. However, since then, talent, trades, and above all, differences in managent have run their respective courses within each individual franchise, and today the Marlins and Nationals meet on Opening Day in two very different situations.
The Marlins boasted some of the best potential talent in baseball back in 2008. They thought they had it all figured out with a nucleus of Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Mike Jacobs, Josh Johnson, and Ricky Nolasco all about to enter their primes, and prospects like Gaby Sanchez about to break into the majors. At that time, the name ‘Jeffrey Loria’ hardly circulated the web. But as it always had troubled the Marlins, money problems took their tolls as the team struggled to keep fans in the stands, and subsequently stars on the field. However, things looked bright when the Miami Marlins came of age and looked to open the new stadium.
Loria, the now-infamous owner who had earned a bad name for himself by swindling the city of Miami into publicly funding the new park, sought forgiveness from the city of Miami by signing a plethora of big-name stars prior to the 2012 season, and promising a huge year filled with the hype of even a reality TV series on HBO. But that plan exploded in Loria’s face, going up in flames like the fuel tanks at Miami International Airport, after a record-terrible month of June.
It got worse for the Fish and their fans after the season when Loria held a fire sale, shipping off the remainder of big name stars aside from Giancarlo Stanton. Sports journalists across the nation frenziedly fed off the rotting carcass of the Miami Marlins. Jeffrey Loria became even more of a household name among baseball fans as the media exploited the near-criminal behavior of his tenure as team owner, of both the Marlins and Expos.
And now, just hours away from the first pitch of 2013, all that remains of the inferno of 2012 hype is a dwindling flame, the few known players that will don Miami jerseys to start the season. Ricky Nolasco, previously the number four pitcher on the team, will take the mound as ace tomorrow, heading a staff of incredibly young and inexperienced arms. Jose Fernandez, the top prospect in Miami’s farm system, was just called to the big leagues as a starter–Fernandez has never pitched above class-A ball before. And possibly worst of all, the Marlins’ marketing staff has resorted to baiting fans into buying Opening Night (April 8th) tickets by placing deals on Groupon, a move that speaks for itself. And the relentless sportswriters have exploited these as well. Whether or not the media is blowing this dismay out of proportion is debatable. But the facts are all right here. The expectations are low. And the 2013 season might be a really long one for the Fish and their fans.
Tomorrow, Ricky Nolasco faces Stephen Strasburg, who is coming off a 2012 season in which he was shut down, a controversial decision made by Nationals management, who insisted on preserving him for the future. Since 2008, the Nationals have followed a steady trend of improvement. Little by little, GM Mike Rizzo and company transformed the franchise from a 103-loss program to a 98-win powerhouse.
Washington looked within their own organization for some answers after a disappointing first season in the new park. They developed Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, and Steve Lombardozzi. With two number one draft picks, the Nats struck gold with two of the highest-touted prodigies in recent history–Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The signings of Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, and Adam LaRoche filled the gaps that the Nationals could not fill themselves. And in 2012, everything fell into place.
From June on, the Nationals held tight to first place in the National League East, riding the winning momentum all the way to a 98-win season, and the top seed in the National League. Unfortunately, inexperience caught up to the team in the playoffs, after the shutdown of Strasburg. The Nats collapsed in game 5 of the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals, and ended their 2012 campaign on an overly-sour note after dominating the regular season.
This offseason, Washington’s front office set out and improved the team even further. They signed another power arm in Dan Haren, a shutdown closer in Rafael Soriano, as well as a veteran center fielder in Denard Span. On paper, the Nationals are the team to beat in the National League.
Fully expecting another playoff berth, and hopeful of a World Series Championship, the Nationals are all in for the 2013 season. No inning restrictions will limit Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper looks to hit the ground running after winning NL Rookie of the Year, and Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth will start the season healthy after injury-plagued years in 2012.
Things are looking up in D.C., unlike the situation in Miami where most Marlins fans have lost patience and hope. The two teams will meet in the District at 1:05 tomorrow afternoon for the start of a three-game series and the 2013 season. Giancarlo Stanton and the Marlins have historically had great success when playing at Nationals Park, but they had their fair share of struggles last season when the Nationals were contending for a pennant. The last time Strasburg started a regular season game was at Nationals Park, against the Marlins, on September 7th. This final outing of the year for him was hardly a fairytale ending to the season, as the Marlins battered him for five earned runs on six hits over just three innings. Miami won the game 9-7.
Tomorrow, Strasburg and the Nats will look to get a solid start on this year, in which they look to rebound from a disappointing 2012 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, the Marlins might only be looking to save face and survive the season.
A lot has happened since 2008 when the Marlins and Nationals were both looking forward to potentially bright futures. The Marlins have disappointed, and the Nationals have met the challenge. Now the teams are set to start the 2013 season as two very different franchises.