Baseball Notes: Phase 1 Complete, The Florida Freaking Marlins?! & DFTU

Sure it's Monday, and that's always kind of a downer. But it always helps me to discuss the weekend that was in the wonderful world of Major League Baseball. So today we discuss the completion of Phase 1 of Operation: Release Gags. Then I'll look at the new king of the mountain in baseball. That's right, there's a new team with the best record in baseball, the Florida Freaking Marlins! Unbelievable. Lastly it's a start-of-the-week edition of the DFTU...

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Off we go...

As my regular readers know, I've been advocating the outright release of Brewers reliever Eric Gagne all year long. I was mystified as to why Brewers management thought it wise to sign the guy to a $10 million deal in the first place, and Gagne has done nothing to significantly alter my opinion since the season began.

Well as of Sunday, Phase 1 of what I'm choosing to call, "Operation: Release Gags" is complete. Brewer Manager Ned Yost has removed Gagne from the Closer's role. For now the Brewers will use a "Closer by Committee" approach while Gagne takes what Yost calls a "mental break"

Translation? Yost is trying to protect his player by not stating the obvious: Gagne doesn't have the stuff to close games anymore. Call it mental, call it physical, call it a vast right-wing conspiracy. Whatever. The point is, the guy can't get the job done and needs to move along and make room for someone who can. Guillermo Mota, David Riske and Salomon Torres all have closing experience and at this point all seem like better options than Gagne. All are right-handed as well, so it's not a matter of matching up pitchers to batters. Instead, it's likely Yost will give each an opportunity and see who steps up to perform best in the role.

So next up is Phase 2. This is where the Brewers realize that if Gagne isn't going to be your closer, there really isn't much point to keeping him in your bullpen at all. You're going to pay $10 million to a set-up guy? Or even a middle reliever? Really? Are you?

So Brewers fans? Rest a little easier. Your team is bound to go on an upswing once Operation: Release Gags is complete. Lord knows you could use it. 18-19 and 4 games back of the Cards and Cubs isn't gonna get it done! Come on Crew fans! Keep those letters and phone calls to the Brewer front office coming! Together we can get this done!

Next up I have to talk about the Florida Marlins. The team with by far the lowest payroll in baseball ($22 million) has the best record in baseball at 23-14. That's a half-game ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks and 1 game ahead of the Boston Red Sox. The Florida Freaking Marlins are the best team in baseball?! How in the name of Jack McKeon did this happen?!

The answer is far from obvious. If you break down their team statistics, nothing really jumps off the page at you. The only stats where they're in the Top 5 in the NL as a team are Slugging Percentage (.456, 1st in the NL) and Batting Average (.265, 5th in the NL). Impressive numbers sure, but they're 6th in the NL in Runs Scored, 7th in Opposing Team Batting Average, 9th in Team ERA and they have the 2nd fewest Strikeouts and 6th most walks amongst NL pitching staffs.

Now if you gave me those numbers and asked me to guess what the record was midway through May? I'd probably tell you somewhere in the .500 neighborhood, maybe slightly above with the high BA and SLG. But I sure as heck wouldn't be guessing 23-14!

So the more I looked into it, the more I started to believe that though the Team numbers don't blow you away, what's carrying the Marlins is a small core of outstanding individual performances.

SS Hanley Ramirez is clearly leading the way. The 24-year old phenom is hitting .336, with a .425 OBP, while slugging .559. He's got 8 HR, 21 RBI and you can throw in 13 Stolen Bases for good measure. Those are All-Star-like numbers and at this point you have to put him in the conversation for MVP.

To whit, the Marlins have reportedly come to terms with Ramirez on a new 6-year $70 million contract extension. Remember what I told you. The Marlins entire payroll this year is $22 million. Next year Ramirez will make $11+ million. Quite the commitment from the ballclub!

But it's not just Ramirez. 2B Dan Uggla is hitting .279, slugging .618 with 11 HR and 27 RBI. And reclamation project Jorge Cantu is hitting .272, slugging .456 with 5 HR and 16 RBI. Last year Cantu spent the majority of the year out of big league baseball, even refusing an assignment to the Durham Bulls at one point (Nuke Laloosh would be crushed). And don't forget the savvy, veteran presence of LF Luis Gonzalez who's hitting .282 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.

On the pitching side, Scott Olson is anchoring the staff with a 4-1 record, a 2.63 ERA and 24 strikeouts. Mark Hendrickson forms the latter half of a nice 1-2 punch with a 5-1 record, 3.56 ERA and 20 strikeouts. And closer Kevin Gregg has converted 7 of his 8 Save opportunities while picking up 3 Wins and compiling an ERA of 2.89.

So there are a lot of things to like about this club. There are also a lot of question marks. Giving up the 6th most walks in the NL is a big red flag. The ability to work out of jams is great, but it puts a lot less strain on your pitchers and your defense to just stay out of jams in the first place. And speaking of defense, the Marlins have committed more errors than any other team in the NL. Combining walks and defensive miscues will inevitably lead to a bunch of crooked numbers.

So I give full credit to the Marlins for what they've accomplished so far. And I wish them nothing but the best for the rest of the season. And who knows? If they can improve a few of those numbers, the Mets and the Phillies may have a much tougher road ahead then they imagined at the beginning of the year.

Lastly today, it's everybody's favorite segment, the "Dan's Favorite Teams Update"!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 19-17, in first place in the AL Central and 1 game ahead of both the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.

Oh how I'm lovin this! The Twins are 7-3 in their last 10, including 3 come-from-behind victories. 2 of which were against the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate). And they have a chance for a 3-1 series victory over the Sox (whom I hate) with their best pitcher to date, Livan Hernandez on the mound tonight! Perfect. When the worst-case scenario in a series with Boston (whom I hate) is a split? Life's pretty good.

The Twins' pitching overall hasn't been stellar. In the last 6 games, they've given up 33 runs. That's 5.5 per game. Not good.

But the offense has picked the pitchers up, scoring 34 runs over those same 6 games. Joe Mauer's average is back to where Twins fans have grown to expect it (.330). And Justin Morneau is anchoring the lineup with a .286 Batting Average with 6 HR and 27 RBI. If Michael Cuddyer can get back to 100% and Delmon Young can manage to get untracked, the Twins will have a nice core to their lineup.

As I mentioned earlier, the Twins wrap up their 4-game set with the Red Sox (whom I hate) tonight before welcoming the Toronto Blue Jays to Metrodome for 3 and then it's off to Denver for interleague play this weekend!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 23-15 and 3.5 games ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West.

The bad news? Arizona's 3-7 in their last 10. Oof. And the worst part of it is that those games have come during a stretch where the Snakes have been testing themselves against some of the stalwarts of the National League. They dropped 2 of 3 to the Mets, and split 4 with the Phillies at home before going to Chicago and getting broom-jobbed by the Cubs (Curse you Dave Anton... curse you).

The trouble for Arizona has been in the pitching and defensive departments. And with the pitching, I'm referring specifically to their bullpen. In all 3 losses to the Cubs, the D'backs held the lead at some point in the mid- to late-stages of the game and the bullpen was unable to hold it.

And the defensive problems I've highlighted in previous posts have not abated. Justin Upton had a particularly awful-looking play in Chicago where he misplayed a ball to begin with and then lazily tossed it into the infield while an alert Alfonso Soriano scored from second on a play where at worst, he should've been at 3rd.

I'm convinced that most of these types of errors stem from having such a young team. But I'd feel a lot better about it if there were some sort of Tony Clark/Luis Gonzalez type grizzled-veteran who could help solidify the defense and provide a "leadership-by-example" presence. Eric Byrnes is your most experienced fielder, but he's really more of the "quirky, keep the guys loose" kind of guy. So I have no idea where that kind of leadership is going to come from, but manager Bob Melvin had better figure something out quickly.

The good news? Even with all their struggles, the D'backs have maintained that 3+ game lead out West. Admit it Arizona fans. You knew the roll they were on to start the year couldn't last forever. This kind of rough spot was to be expected.

And the bright side is, they're still hitting well and scoring runs. And with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren leading the way, the starting pitching should remain fairly consistent.

So there's work to be done, but there really isn't any reason to glance at that "panic button" just yet.

The D'backs are off today before hosting the Rockies for 3 and then the Detroit Tigers in interleague play for 3 as well.

That's all for today folks. More Baseball-osity on Wednesday, and then Thursday's your official Preakness Preview!

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