It's only one game in a long Major League Baseball season, and I get that. However, the St. Louis Cardinals have been a model of consistency for a long period of time while the Miami Marlins are trying to break back into the VIP club after being absent for nearly a decade.
Wednesday night the final score read St. Louis 4, Miami 1. It was just another notch in the argument that stability more often than not beats hype. It also proved the Marlins have taken a road frequently traveled, but one that will take longer as has been proven across the board in sports.
Kyle Lohse was impressive, and in control for 7 1/3 innings while taking a no-hitter into the 7th. He mixed in the off-speed stuff effectively, and got some easy outs. The only batter to get good contact on his pitches was Giancarlo Stanton who flied out twice against Lohse. This is a guy who was a fill-in because Chris Carpenter was unavailable due to injury. So rather than changing Adam Wainwright's schedule around, new manager, Mike Matheny went with the veteran Lohse who held the fort down well.
Yes, the Marlins splashed with getting Jose Reyes to add blazing speed to an already lightning fast top of the line-up. Yes, they also upgraded their pitching with Mark Buehrle in the rotation and Heath Bell in the closer's role. Yes, the Marlins got a new look with former World Series winning manager, Ozzie Guillen calling the shots. Still, as has been proven time and again, splashes take time to adjust.
All this talk about the excitement of a new park, and all this money being thrown around is great- but a full out assault on the piggy bank doesn't win titles. Just ask the New York Yankees for most of the 2000s who spent mostly foolish money on some bad contracts. The Marlins are more hype than what their final record may reflect. The Cardinals by contrast are a more well constructed overall team, and as long as they stay healthy, they should be back in the playoffs again even without Albert Pujols.
Look at what is still left. There's still Lance Berkman who had a renaissance year in 2011, and was intentionally walked twice on this night. How about that for respect when you have David Freese behind Berkman in the line-up? Freese was only the World Series MVP last year, and turned out to be the biggest reason at the plate that the Cardinals have now started 2012 at 1-0. He had three hits, two RBIs, and a run scored. He's picked up right where he left off.
Then there is the new acquisition in Carlos Beltran who had a pretty good night going 2 for 5 with a run scored. He was aggressive early in the game, but Marlins pitching adjusted as the game went on. Beltran may not have the wheels he used to have, but as long as he's in the line-up, the heart of the order doesn't suffer as much from the loss of Pujols.
Add in some solid pitching, and a bullpen that figured it out toward the end of last season, and you have a recipe for success in a division that took a hit in free agency when Prince Fielder left the Cardinals' biggest competition in Milwaukee.
Finally, there is the added bonus of having a formidable replacement for a legendary predecessor in Tony LaRussa. That is Matheny- why? Because he was always thought of as a leader in the clubhouse. Plus, even though he is light on experience, Matheny was in that Cardinals locker room for several years. He understands not only the team, but the culture and the atmosphere- sort of like Guillen who spent most of his career in Chicago with the White Sox.
Miami has loads of excitement to them, and I understand it. However, this night proved that for the long haul of 2012, I would rather take the franchise that is more efficiently run, than the somewhat unknown commodity with a lot of combustible pieces that have to come together (Guillen, Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and the always out-spoken Logan Morrison to name a few). I'm not confident that they'll fully live up to the hype this season in a tough division where only the New York Mets figure to be truly bad.
There were a couple of side notes to take. It was great to see a new stadium filled with fans in the Miami area. That's something that hasn't been seen in a long time, and hopefully it will continue. Remember, this game had to go up against the Miami Heat having a big contest and perhaps an NBA Finals preview against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Also, Josh Johnson looked a little shaky coming off an injury that sidelined him for most of 2011. Johnson's slider didn't have as much movement as usual, and he was pounced on early. He also had trouble putting batters away with two strikes, and all of his runs surrendered happened with two outs. Still, the big right-hander with Cy Young type stuff, battled through six innings, and didn't throw in the towel when there were opportunities to considering he gave up ten hits.
Again, I'm not saying that the Marlins have completely botched their franchise. However, just getting a bunch of big names doesn't work right away. Ask the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox of last year, the Philadelphia Eagles, or Real Madrid. It takes longer than just a year, which is why I'm not as high on the Marlins as many others. I don't see them making it past Atlanta or Philadelphia into the post-season even with an extra wild card intact for this year.
The Marlins may have flashed the cash to woo a lot of big names to South Beach, but the biggest spenders aren't necessarily the ones with the biggest return on investment. Rather, those who take the calculated risk or make the one big move while keeping the team as intact as possible are the ones that benefit. Wednesday night was just another tiny sample for that argument.
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