Marlins endure rollercoaster ride in first half

Marlins endure rollercoaster ride in first half

MIAMI -- In a word, the Marlins' first half can be summed up as "inconsistent."

To verify, just break down each month. In April, they were 8-14, but followed that up with a 21-8 mark in May, setting a franchise record for wins in a month.

Just when it looked like the club was positioned to challenge for first place in the National League East, Miami stumbled to an 8-18 mark in June.

Club breakdowns
First-half highlights

"Yes, I'm disappointed," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I should be. I think we're a better club than what we were playing. I'm not managing this club for .500. I think we're better than a .500 club."

The extreme highs and agonizing lows created one of the most inconsistent first halves the franchise has seen in years.

"We've been either very hot or very cold," Guillen said. "I think being inconsistent has been a big part of the problem. I wish every time we went out there, we would be more consistent."

The Marlins ended their first half much like it began, with a heartbreaking ninth-inning letdown in St. Louis. The Cardinals scored three times in the ninth inning on Sunday, claiming a 5-4 win.

Rather than being one game under .500, the Marlins are 41-44 at the break.

The players, coaching staff and front office have been baffled at the winding road the team traveled into the break. Still, for all the uneasiness the first half brought, the organization isn't throwing in the towel on the rest of the season.

First-half awards
MVP: Giancarlo Stanton One of the strongest players in the game, and still refining his game, the 22-year-old slugged his way to All-Star status in his third MLB season. Unfortunately, arthroscopic surgery to his right knee on Sunday caused him to skip the festivities in Kansas City.
Cy Young: Mark Buehrle As advertised, Buehrle is logging innings and giving his team a chance to win. In 17 starts, he has 16 decisions, and he enters the break 8-8 with a 3.25 ERA and a team-high 113 2/3 innings.
Rookie: Donovan Solano The 24-year-old opened the season at Triple-A New Orleans before being given his first big league opportunity. The Colombia native's role is to come off the bench, and he has performed at a number of positions.
Top reliever: Steve Cishek The right-hander with the rangy, side-arm delivery has come up big all year, and he has the potential to be a future closer.

Far from it.

On July 4, the Marlins acquired slugger Carlos Lee from the Astros for prospects Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen.

Lee provides a proven middle-of-the-lineup run producer. And when the team returns to action on Friday, at home against the Nationals, center fielder Emilio Bonifacio is expected to be reinstated off the disabled list, where he has been out since May 18 with a torn ligament in his left thumb.

"I expect this ballclub to play better," Guillen said. "I think the talent is there. I think the pitching staff is there. ... I think this ballclub, every time they take the field, I expect them to do well."

The Marlins will be moving forward without All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who will miss four to six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove bone fragments from his right knee. The 22-year-old slugger paces the team with 19 home runs and 50 RBIs.

Even without Stanton, the roster is considered strong enough to make a push.

In their first season as the Miami Marlins, the organization underwent a makeover. Marlins Park is a trendy, retractable-roof, state-of-the-art building. And the roster was restructured, adding former All-Stars like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. They also added Carlos Zambrano in a trade with the Cubs for Chris Volstad.

All four have had to deal with some adversity. And Guillen is considering another closing option after Bell was unable to convert in the ninth inning on Sunday in St. Louis.

"It's been an interesting first half," team president David Samson said. "There's been a lot of attention with the team that we've never had before. When you talk about all the excitement going into the season, that's what leads to this level of disappointment, because you don't expect to be below .500 at the break, at all.

"But the way things went, I think we're pretty happy to be this close to .500. It could be a lot worse."

Reyes, the NL batting champ a year ago, is batting .264.

"I don't feel like I played the first half the way I should have played," Reyes said. "I think overall, we feel we are better than we played the first half."

Players to watch in second half
Emilio Bonifacio Recovering from surgery on his left thumb on May 25, the Marlins are expected to activate Bonifacio right after the All-Star break. The center fielder's speed and energy have been greatly missed.
Juan Carlos Oviedo Formerly Leo Nunez, Oviedo's suspension for playing under a false identity ends on July 23. The right-hander should provide a big boost to the back of the bullpen.
Heath Bell Chances are Steve Cishek will get the first chance to close in the second half. How Bell regroups and recovers will play a big part in if the team can make up lost ground.

For the most part, the pitching has held up. The starting rotation coming out of Spring Training made every single start without interruption.

A struggling offense led to the club acquiring Lee.

"We know we're better than the way we're performing," general manager Michael Hill said. "Now, it's just a matter of doing it."

The Lee trade, the team hopes, will pay off down the stretch, because the 36-year-old is proven.

Picking up the slack now that Stanton is out will be a challenge.

Justin Ruggiano and Logan Morrison each showed power potential in the week leading into the break. Getting Hanley Ramirez and Reyes going on a consistent basis will be critical if the Marlins are to make a serious playoff charge.

Without Stanton's power, the team may rely more on speed to help manufacture some runs. Having Bonifacio back will provide a stealing threat at the bottom of the order.

"We were trying to lengthen our lineup and create more depth with Carlos Lee," Hill said.

The pieces are now in place for a second-half push. Now, it's a matter of finding some consistency.

"I'd like to see us just consistently win series," Samson said. "And that's how we're going to make the playoffs, and this team is capable of it."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.