There's a numbers-heavy post up on Fish Stripes today suggesting that the 8-14 Marlins are due for a regression and an improvement. Let me make this counterargument: they're not. They might just suck.
Now, now, you'll say. Attend to the small sample size. OK. Small sample size matters here. Gaby Sanchez will not hit .205/.234/.342 all year. Giancarlo Stanton won't hit .247/.286/.342, either.
But! The Marlins do not have many good hitters. (Austin Kearns hit cleanup today.) Five of their eight starters have career OPS+ numbers better than 100, league average. (The Mets and Braves have more.) Moreover, two of the Marlins' most gifted offensive players aren't so reliable: Jose Reyes is always one misplaced stride away from a middling season, and Hanley Ramirez failed last season after a disappointing 2010. Factor in, too, that the Marlins have average hitters at the premium power positions. Sanchez, at first base, didn't crack an .800 OPS in either of his first two full seasons, and Logan Morrison didn't last year, in his first full season. Stanton is great, sure, but John Buck isn't. Omar Infante, who has somehow already hit five home runs, isn't great either. How Emilio Bonifacio'll do is anyone's guess.
The Marlins have a roster filled with players who are older and worse than you think they are. Ramirez and Gaby Sanchez are both 28! So are ostensible young guns Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez! That means, based on lots of available data, that they're finishing their career peaks. (Actually, pitchers peak at 27, so Sanchez and Johnson are already on the way down. 29-year-old Ricky Nolasco bears this out: his strikeout rate went from 9.5 K/9 in 2009 to 6.5 in 2011.)
Let's talk about the Marlins' staff for a second. They have a nice rotation, although Carlos Zambrano's skill has almost certainly left him for good. The bullpen, though? Yikes, at least when it comes to the closer. Last year, Heath Bell struck out the fewest batters per nine of his career, fewer even than when he mopped up for the Mets. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was also the worst he's ever had. His home run rate ticked up, too. Oh, also: he turns 35 in September. As you might have expected, he's been miserable this year. The rest of the pen is a parade of mediocrity: Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb, Steve Cishek (OK, he's been amazing so far), Randy Choate, et. al. Aside from Cishek, it's nothing great.
The Marlins may not finish the season last in the NL East. It's early yet. That said, 28 of 49 ESPN experts picked Miami to make the playoffs, and we're reminded once again how easy it is to get caught up in offseason hype.
And, hey, if Miami does wind up in fifth? At least it feels like home.