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Marlins win one for Dan Jennings, now face much bigger challenge

5/24/2015



It wasn't easy -- it took 13 innings to score a run -- but the Miami Marlins finally did it: They won a game for new manager Dan Jennings. Perhaps more importantly, they ended their eight-game losing streak. That gets them to 2-12 in their past 14 games, with two one-run wins suggesting they weren't far from being even worse. The Marlins are a team in all sorts of trouble, and they'd be in trouble with Dan Jennings, Casey Stengel or Earl Weaver, given major issues in pretty much every phase of the game.

Assuming Jeffrey Loria didn't just randomly fire his manager after a 16-22 start for the sake of tradition (he canned Jeff Torborg at that same point in the Marlins' 2003 World Series-winning season), the bullpen was tabbed as the culprit for Mike Redmond's managerial martyrdom, with eight blown saves, half of them by former closer Steve Cishek. But overall bullpen performance hasn't been that bad. Turn to a bullpen metric such as Baseball Prospectus' Fair Run Average, and the Marlins rank fifth in the NL and eighth in MLB. After Saturday's win, the pen has a 3.97 ERA and 3:1 ratio of strikeouts to unintentional walks. The Marlins have talent in the bullpen, and their real problems aren't there.

The major problem is with depth -- or lack of it -- and that has been tested more than you could have expected in the early going. The major setbacks are in the rotation. This was a season scripted with the expectation that Jose Fernandez would come back from the DL in July and give his team the ace it lacked. Now, with Mat Latos and Henderson Alvarez both landing on the DL on Saturday, you might write the rotation off as a disaster. Three starting pitchers have been shelved in the entirety of the Dan Jennings era, and it hasn't even been a week. That pair follows Jarred Cosart on the shelf. Cosart landed on the DL due to vertigo on Monday, which left just Dan Haren and Tom Koehler from the Opening Day front five.

The rotation meltdown isn't on Jennings any more than you can credit Jennings with any quick fix. You trade for Mat Latos, and you take your chances. Adding David Phelps in the offseason has been a minor godsend, but with two slots to fill, how the next couple weeks play out is anyone's guess, especially with no real return timeline for any of the four starters.

Before Alvarez and Latos went down, you might have indulged the fantasy that the Marlins would mount a big, Fernandez-led, second-half comeback. Now they're looking at a June of question marks over how they will cobble together a rotation. They might dig a hole so deep that they'll be sellers at the end of July, rather than a team rallying for a big stretch run. That's the situation, whether Dan Jennings is a dugout genius or fish out of water.

If only that were the extent of the Marlins' problems. The lineup has big-picture issues as well. Given a fairly weak supporting cast of rented veterans picked to round out the lineup, the Marlins couldn't indulge slow starts from Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, two top-shelf talents. Ozuna has been adequate, and Yelich terrible, so even with Dee Gordon leading off effectively and Giancarlo Stanton mashing, the Marlins are 11th in the NL in runs scored per game. Both veterans should both come around, but the Marlins need more than that to outscore a rotation casting around for replacements.

One week in, Jennings has made some modest tweaks to the lineup card by swapping Ozuna and Martin Prado to get Ozuna in the No. 2 hole while assigning cleanup chores to Prado. Yes, batting Prado in the heart of an order isn't good news, but front-loading to get more at-bats for Ozuna means more at-bats for one of Miami's best players, so it's a smart thing to do. Similarly, seeing Justin Bour used as more of a platoon regular at first base might give the Marlins some of the punch they sorely lack from the left side of the plate, especially in light of Yelich's early-season struggles. These are nice moves, but they reflect the depth of Miami's problem: depth itself. That's about all the fixes the Marlins can make or afford.

As a result, there might not be much point in debating the Marlins' naming Jennings manager. It's done, and perhaps, after these latest injuries, so are they. Maybe thise buys them and Jennings time to get comfortable and get a handle on the job of managing games and the 25 men who have to play them.

If all this works out, the pity will be that it might be the biggest victory the Marlins can claim in a 2015 begun with great expectations.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.