The struggles of Jose Reyes are just one of the reasons behind why Miami sits in 4th place in the NL East. (Image Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

Around the NL East: Recapping Miami's First Half

With days of no baseball now behind us, the second half of the 2012 season is set to begin later today across Major League Baseball. Before the first games begin, however, let’s take a moment to take stock of the rest of the National League East and where the four teams chasing the Nationals currently stand. We’ll continue working our way up from the bottom of the NL East – next up are the Miami Marlins, who at 41-44 are 9.0 games behind Washington.

Miami’s offseason was dominated by big headlines and big spending in anticipation of the opening of their brand new stadium, complete with in-house aquarium and a moving statue in center field that cost nearly $3 Million to build. They team handed out $191 Million in order to land Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle on the free agent market, while making failed runs at both C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols for even bigger dollar amounts. But all the fancy new toys have yet to produce a winning combination in Miami, despite an MLB-high boost in attendance from last season.

Last year’s winner of the NL batting title, Reyes has struggled for much of 2012. He’s hit just .264/.336/.378 with just 3 HR, 22 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 384 plate appearances. He’s still been solid defensively, but hasn’t provided the spark atop the Marlins lineup that he was expected to. By bringing in Reyes, the team moved their default face-of-the-franchise (though an argument could be made that he’s been unseated there as well) Hanley Ramirez over to third base in a move that (depending on who you believe) he was hesitant to agree to. Through 323 plate appearances, Ramirez is hitting just .248/.323/.424 with 12 HR and 44 RBI.

The pair of infielders aren’t the only ones struggling offensively, however. Catcher John Buck is hitting just .176/.305/.324. Former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan is still a shell of his former self, batting just .140/.212/.183. Gaby Sanchez has struggled enough that he was sent back to the minor leagues and the team subsequently acquired Carlos Lee to try and fill some of the offensive void.

Omar Infante has been a bright spot, after some questioned the team’s eagerness to resign him last September. Over 306 plate appearances he’s hitting .290/.314/.455 with 7 HR and 30 RBI. Logan Morrison, while batting .249/.328/.443, has added 11 HR and 36 RBI.

Then there’s Giancarlo Stanton, the “new” face-of-the-franchise (or at least he will be … soon). The right fielder has pushed up big numbers this year, hitting .284/.364/.554 with a team leading 19 HR and 50 RBI. His home runs have been memorable ones this year – from mashing a walk-off grand slam off of that same center field statue to breaking the scoreboard down the line in left. Unfortunately for the Marlins, Stanton’s now on the shelf for the next 4-6 weeks thanks to knee surgery earlier this week that cost him an appearance in both the Home Run Derby and All Star Game.

From a pitching standpoint the results have also been disappointing.

Bell has been a massive disappointment thus far. He’s 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA and just 19 saves in 40 appearances. At multiple points during the season his hold on the closer’s role has come into question. Meanwhile the only other pitcher in the organization with extensive closing experience has been on the shelf, first trying to secure a visa to enter the United States and now serving what’s left of an 8 week suspension for using a false identification. Eventually the Marlins could get Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) back and with Bell’s struggles, he could possibly resume that closing role.

Meanwhile, Buehrle has been a steady force in the team’s rotation. He’s 8-8 with a team leading 3.25 ERA through 17 starts and has been the consistent option the team hoped he’d provide. The remainder of the starting rotation, however, has not lived up to their end of the bargain. Josh Johnson is 5-5 with a 4.06 ERA but has at least remained healthy. Anibal Sanchez has struggled to a 4-6 record and 4.12 ERA. Carlos Zambrano has been dreadful, sitting at 4-7 with almost as many walks as strikeouts through 100 innings.

Team officials have insisted for weeks that the Marlins are still focused on winning this year, giving no indication that they are going to try and sell off parts at the pending trade deadline. Miami’s going to need to play better in the second half to make a comeback, which will be no easy challenge until Stanton and Emilio Bonifacio return to the lineup. Washington leads off the season’s second half with a four game series at Miami that begins tonight. The Marlins come to Washington for four more from August 3-5, including a double header on the 3rd. Washington heads back to Miami for two towards the end of August and then host the Marlins for a final three game set from September 7-9.

Tags: Giancarlo Stanton Hanley Ramirez Heath Bell Jose Reyes Mark Buehrle Marlins Miami Marlins Nationals Omar Infante Washington Nationals

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