SweetSpot: Ryan Webb

Can the Marlins compete in 2011?

March, 11, 2011
The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves are heavy favorites in the NL East, while the Washington Nationals are still building and the New York Mets have some talent but are generally a mess. The Florida Marlins have won 84, 87 and 80 games during the last three seasons. Could they be the NL wild card, if not the division champions?

The Marlins traded Dan Uggla to Atlanta, a severe hit offensively given that they are replacing him with Omar Infante (who I presume is keeping second base warm until Osvaldo Martinez is called up). They signed John Buck to be their catcher, stabilizing a position that’s been a concern for Florida for the last half-decade.

Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison will each get a full season’s worth of playing time, adding to a young core that includes Gaby Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez (hard to believe he’s only 27). Chris Coghlan, recovering from knee surgery, will take a crack at center field. He’s already moved from second base to left field (and handled it fairly well), but the move to center is even more difficult, especially coming off a leg injury. With these five, the core is young and talented, with room yet to improve.

In the rotation, Josh Johnson leads the way; over the last two seasons, he’s posted a 2.80 ERA that matches a sparkling 2.76 FIP. A big-time groundball pitcher, his home ballpark also helps him keep the ball in the park.

The talented trio of Ricky Nolasco (28), Chris Volstad (24) and Anibal Sanchez (26) follows Johnson, and the Marlins added Javier Vazquez on a one-year deal. If he can find what made him great in 2009, when he was one of the top three or four pitchers in the National League (and I think it was just more than moving to the American League), the Marlins will run out an above-average starter every day. Additionally, two Florida trades this winter included bullpen arms coming back. Ryan Webb, Edward Mujica, and Mike Dunn all figure to strengthen the bullpen in front of Leo Nunez.

Even with their additions, the Marlins need their young talent to get better. It might seem like an obvious statement, but those young players are also their best players, and they’ll need to become elite quickly if the Marlins are going to compete in September.

For the past few seasons (since the trade of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis), it has seemed like the Marlins have been building for the future. That future could be here soon, just as soon as the stars-to-be become stars right now.

Dan Hennessey writes Baseballin' on a Budget, a blog about the Oakland Athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DanHennessey31.

Bud Black's sixth inning not his best

October, 2, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- I'm absolutely sure that I'm missing some key piece of information, but from where I was sitting, Bud Black did not have a particularly good bottom of the sixth inning.

His starting pitcher, Clayton Richard, had given up just one run but escaped a few jams, gave up a number of well-struck blows, and never seemed to have any real grip on the proceedings. From the beginning, he seemed to just be hanging on until the cavalry arrived; anything more than five innings would be a real bonus for his manager.

Leading off the sixth against Richard, Buster Posey hit an easy grounder to shortstop. But Pat Burrell ripped a double into the left-field corner. Aaron Rowand, a strong (if little else) right-handed hitter was dispatched as a pinch-hitter. Bud Black's bullpen is absolutely loaded with right-handed relievers who eat hitters like Aaron Rowand like they're M&Ms.

Black stuck with Richard. Rowand hit a two-run homer.

Black took out Richard, and summoned one of those right-handed relievers. Not his best right-handed reliever. Not his second-best right-handed reliever. Or his third-best. Black called on Ryan Webb, a fine pitcher who is the Padres' fourth- or fifth-best right-handed reliever.

Hey, it's still just the sixth inning and Black obviously didn't want burn his best relievers so early in the game.

No, it's what happened next that I couldn't quite figure.

Well, not exactly next. What happened next is that Webb walked Juan Uribe (no easy chore, by the way), struck out Edgar Renteria, and gave up a double to Cody Ross.

All the while, super-situational lefty Joe Thatcher was heating up in the bullpen.

Why? I wondered.

Aubrey Huff was still a few batters away, and Huff is essentially the Giants' only dangerous left-handed hitter.

After Ross's double (his second in two innings), Black took out Webb and brought in Thatcher to face switch-hitting Andres Torres, who has a huge platoon split this season -- .223/.303/.346 against lefties, .288/.360/.537 ... but essentially no real split in his career. Maybe Torres is simply a different hitter now, or maybe Black was seduced by a small sample size. You decide.

Either way, Thatcher -- one of the great lefty relievers in the game, at least this season -- was used for exactly one batter. Torres reached base (and drove in a run) with a swinging bunt, and Black yanked Thatcher in favor of Luke Gregerson, who finally nailed down the third out.

But the Giants scored three runs in the inning, and Black won't have his best lefty if a scary situation should arise.

I just wonder if he would do exactly the same things, if he have the bottom of the sixth to do over again.