Marlins will be a factor all year in National League East

Updated: April 12, 2009

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Hanley Ramirez has been the catalyst for the Florida offense during the Marlins' 5-1 start.

YES, THE MARLINS ARE FOR REAL

Wow. On Sunday, we witnessed another great victory by the Marlins, this one coming against the Mets despite a great performance from Johan Santana. The Marlins are red-hot at the start of this season and are tied for the NL East lead with the Atlanta Braves at 5-1. I don't think anyone should be surprised by this start from the Marlins because this team played extremely well in spurts last season and has the components, both offensively and defensively, to make a run in the tough NL East.

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Let's take a look at the offense, led by shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who at the tender age of 25 already is one of the best players in the majors. His blend of speed and power is remarkable. He's also stepped up in the clubhouse since Miguel Cabrera's departure. Ramirez is hitting .348 right now with two home runs and nine RBIs. He remains one of the toughest outs in baseball.

It's not all Ramirez, though. His hot bat has been matched by fellow infielders Emilio Bonifacio (.500, one homer, five RBIs) and Jorge Cantu (.368, two homers, seven RBIs). And just think, the talented Dan Uggla and Cameron Maybin haven't started hitting yet. When those guys get it going, this offense could challenge any team in either league in terms of average and power.

But as good as the hitting has been, I'm actually more impressed with the Marlins' pitching staff, ace Josh Johnson in particular. Johnson is picking up where he left off last season, when he went 7-1 with 77 strikeouts in 87.1 innings and an impressive 3.61 ERA in 14 appearances. Last season he showed admirable control with only 27 walks. His numbers so far this year are even more impressive -- he's struck out 15 and walked one in two outings this season. Those numbers have translated into a 2-0, 0.57 ERA start. Sunday's performance against the Mets was really, really good since he went toe-to-toe with one of the best pitchers in baseball (Santana) and didn't back down once.

You can't quantify the amount of confidence a team gets when it sees its best young pitcher go against an established ace like Santana and win a 2-1 game, as Johnson and the Marlins did Sunday. Johnson gave his team something to build off of not just for this series, but down the line. We've seen numerous successful teams in the past thrive in tight situations simply because they know the ace would come through, and Johnson is establishing himself as one of those guys who can be a pillar his team can comfortably lean on.

But Johnson isn't the only pitcher on this team who opposing hitters have to worry about. Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad have looked good. The Marlins also believe they can rely on Ricky Nolasco.

My only concern for this team is the defense is a bit loose. It has four errors through the first six games. The Marlins must tighten it up, because in a division as talented as this one, no team can afford to give the opposing team more outs. But if the Marlins are able to correct that flaw, they could still be threatening for the wild card and possibly the division title late in the season.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 9 | April 8 | April 7 | April 6 | April 5

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
J. Hamilton, Tex1DetJacksonTop 1: 2-2, 1 Out. 1 on.
B. Phillips, Cin1PitSnellBot 1: 2-2, 2 Outs. 1 on.
I. Kinsler, Tex2DetJacksonTop 3: 3-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.
M. DeRosa, Cle1TorPurceyBot 3: 0-0, 0 Outs. 1 on.
D. Young, Min1CWSBuehrleTop 2: 2-0, 1 Out. None on.

The complete list of Sunday's homers

ON DECK: MONDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Yankees at Rays

Perhaps those charged with making the schedule wanted the Rays to prove they weren't one-year wonders. Tampa Bay was forced to start the season with the Red Sox, then less than a week later have to face the other superpower in the AL East, the Yankees. Chien-Ming Wang takes the mound for the Yankees, and he will lug his 17.18 ERA out to the hill with him.

Phillies at Nationals

Why the Nationals, you ask? Well, because Washington is on Win Watch, still in search of that first W. The Nats are 0-6 and will try to get to Jamie Moyer the same way the Braves did in Moyer's first outing of the season, when he allowed eight hits and four runs in five innings of a 4-0 loss on Tuesday.

Reds at Brewers

Like pitching? Well, this is the game of the day then. Edinson Volquez, who did struggle in his first start of the year (five runs, four walks in 4 1/3 innings of a loss), faces Yovani Gallardo, who didn't struggle in his first start of the year (two runs, six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings of a win).

For the rest of this Monday's schedule, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: MONDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Peter Gammons, John Kruk, Chris Singleton
12:30 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: Peter Gammons, John Kruk, Chris Singleton

BBTN MINUTE: LOOKING AT CITI FIELD

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight he looks at the dominating efforts put forth by the 11 starting pitchers who came up with wins in Sunday's early games:

By The Numbers
# with more IP than hits allowed 10
# with 0 ER allowed 5
# with complete games 3
# of shutouts 2
Innings pitched-Hits allowed 79 2/3-39
Combined ERA 1.47

WEB GEMS

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Kyle LohseKyle Lohse looked pretty good last week in his first start of the season. He was even better Sunday, tossing a complete-game, three-hit, zero-walk shutout against the Astros. At one point during the Cardinals' 3-0 win, Lohse retired 24 consecutive Houston hitters.
Travis Hafner• Sure, Travis Hafner struck out three times Sunday. But he also hit a big two-run homer in the eighth inning as the Indians got their first win of the year in an 8-4 victory over the Blue Jays. Hafner already has three home runs this year after hitting five all of last season.
WORST
Jeff Suppan• Brewers fans had to be mumbling, "Just throw a strike already" during the fourth inning Sunday night, when Jeff Suppan walked home three runs. Once Suppan exited, Jorge Julio came on and made it four bases-loaded walks.
Tim Lincecum• This isn't how things were supposed to start this season for Tim Lincecum. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner was roughed up for a second consecutive start to open the year, giving up four runs and a career-high 10 hits in a 6-1 loss against the Padres.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Aaron Harang is off to a great start in 2009 after posting a 6-19 record with a 4.78 ERA last season. He was a hard-luck loser on Opening Day, when he allowed just one earned run against the Mets in a 2-1 loss. On Sunday, he threw a three-hit shutout with no walks and nine strikeouts. What has made the difference so far this year?

Aaron Harang -- 2008 vs. 2009
2008 2009
1st batter of inning out pct. 68 79
1-2-3 innings per IP pct. 38.0 46.0
Pct. of runners who score 35.0 8.0
Well-hit BA vs. off-speed strikes .099 .051

Harang focused on conditioning this past offseason and it seems to be paying off. He's pounding the strike zone and pitching to contact, making for shorter, more efficient innings.

-- ESPN Stats and Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF MONDAY'S GAMES

Adam Madison examines the 13 games on Monday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes