It’s finally here! Opening Day has finally arrived! For many, including myself, this is a holiday on par with Christmas. After the long and grueling off-season and a month of Spring Training as an appetizer, baseball is back! 2012 is a great season to be a Cardinals fan. The Redbirds come into the season with a very strong lineup and a solid pitching staff, albeit one missing Chris Carpenter for the time being. Young Cardinals like Lance Lynn, Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene, and Erik Komatsu will be getting a shot to make an impact, while Baby Birds like Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong, and Trevor Rosenthal take steps towards making the big league roster. The Cardinals have a fantastic opening to the season, as they travel to Miami to take on the new-look Marlins and also get their first glimpse at the new Marlins Park. Ehsan Kassim, the editor of Fansided’s Marlins affiliate Marlin Maniac, and I exchanged questions about our respective teams in preparation for today’s kickoff game. Ehsan’s thoughts will follow after the jump and mine can be seen here.
1) One of the biggest stories of the offseason was the Marlin’s shopping spree. How high is the excitement level in Miami? Are the fans pumped up to see the fresh faces?
There is a lot of optimism in Miami for the 2012 season. The Marlins are going to be a very exciting team to watch. We have lately gotten endorsements from Lebron James and Dwyane Wade promoting the Marlins. That is so cool to have. As for the fans, season ticket sales have gone pretty fast, so I hope that means Marlins game will be packed and those dumb, redundant jokes about Marlins past stay with Florida’s history, and stay away from Miami baseball.
2) Among one of the offseason acquisitions was Jose Reyes. What is the latest on Hanley Ramirez‘s reaction to his move to third to accomodate Reyes? Will the Marlins be dealing with internal struggles this season, or can new manager Ozzie Guillen pull in the reins?
Never believe what the media wants to feed you. ESPN and MLB Network, all they could talk about was how “their sources” told them Hanley Ramirez would not report to camp, he wanted a trade, he and Reyes were not close friends, and the whole nine yards. Since camp has started, Ramirez and Reyes have been nearly inseparable. They have squashed the rumors that they are not close friends. In fact, they both dyed their hair orange to celebrate the Miami Marlins. Hardly sounds like Ramirez wants out. The real test for Ozzie Guillen will be when Hanley has a bad game or if Reyes gets hurt. How will he handle Ramirez then.
As for internal struggles, I believe that the whole Logan Morrison clash with the Marlins management was overblown. There was not much there. He overreacted and that led to a lot of issues. Morrison actually has a good relationship with the Marlins. The Marlins front office has always been there for LoMo with anything he needs involving his father. Morrison needs to mature a bit in 2012 and cut down on Twitter a bit. That is not good for bloggers like me that thrive on his Twitter hilariousness though, but as a fan I will take it.
There could be some issues with Carlos Zambrano. I have not been fully on board with him yet. I do not trust how he will handle himself, but it does not hurt the team to have Ozzie to help keep him calm.
3) Marlins’s fans can empathize with Cardinals’ fan in that we are both hoping for a strong return from injured aces. How is Josh Johnson looking as he recovers from last season’s injuries? What are the expectations for him this year?
Johnson has looked sharp so far in spring training. More imporantly, Johnson has looked sharp in spring training and has not complained of any pain. He almost gave me a heart attack on March 25thwhen the Marlins training staff met with him on the mound. Turns out, the meeting was due to a blister that had formed on his throwing hand. According to Johnson, the blister developed because he was throwing his slider properly. Johnson’s velocity has been clocked between 93-96 this spring, so that is also a great sign.
As for my expectations, I would love to see him go 200+ innings and make 30 starts, but I do not see it. I think Johnson will give the Marlins 150+ innings and make at least 23-25 starts. Then it will be up to the Marlins 6th and 7th starters to pick up JJ on those few starts he misses.
4) What is the latest on the spring training injuries to Not Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison? Are they progressing well in their rehab programs and, more importantly (for, let’s say, fantasy owners like myself who won both), will they be ready for opening day?
Not Mike Stanton is now known as Giancarlo Stanton. Both he and Morrison seem like they will be ready for opening day. They have played in some rehab games and will play in the Marlins final few spring training games. The Marlins need both players to be healthy to have a strong lineup. Without them, their lineup goes from the best in the NL East to potentially the worst. Both should be in the lineup for opening day and should produce.
5) How is Emilio Bonifacio‘s comfort level in center field? The Marlins will be counting on him as an everyday player, so will he be able to handle it?
He seems pretty comfortable in center. I trust him to play adequate defense out there. As an every day player, he will likely exceed 30 bases, even if he struggles at the plate. That is the concern for the Marlins though. Can he repeat his 2011 success. I am leaning towards no. His BABIP was a career high at .380 last season. He has a career BABIP of .340. If he regresses back towards his career BABIP, the rest of his line will follow suite.
I have Bonifacio projected as a 2 wins above replacement player in 2012, but I would not be surprised if he does not last the entire season as the center fielder. Chris Coghlan could still make a run for the job in season. I could also see the Marlins making a trade at the deadline to improve center field.
6) How do you like the new stadium?
Unfortunately, I have not seen the new stadium in person. I currently live in Alabama and do not have the funds to go down to Miami and watch some games. I will try to go this summer. As far as I have seen in the pictures, it looks absolutely gorgeous. I love the fish tanks, the dimensions, and just the way everything was put together.
If I had one gripe, it would have to be the home run structure. The thing is hideous and I am scared Giancarlo Stanton maybe too afraid to hit home runs because of it. If his power goes down in 2012, blame the structure, not the stadium!
7) Lastly, are there any players that you are particularly excited about this season? Are you predicting any breakout performances or dreading any regressions?
I am excited about Hanley Ramirez. Most projection systems are being modest about what he will produce in 2012. From the information I have gathered, Hanley’s shoulder had been bothering him for a while. If the surgery corrected what was wrong, I fully expect for him to have a season like he did in 2009. Ramirez struggled the past two seasons with his lift and was hitting a lot more balls into the ground. If he can go back to his career line drive rate, the average and power production should go back up. So far what I have seen in spring has led me to declare that I believe he will be the 2012 MVP in the National League.
Also excited to see the growth that Stanton and Morrison will bring to the team in 2012. I expect that Morrison will combine his new found power with his strong approach at the plate and become a better all-around player. His defense will leave a lot to be desired with. As for Stanton, a story line in 2012 is going to be how many home runs can the young 22-year old hit. For someone with Stanton’s power, 40 home runs is not out of the question. Most projection systems have him between 35-39.
As for the players that will regress, I expect Bonifacio and Reyes to. Both players had a career high in BABIP. I already explained above about what I see from Bonifacio. For Reyes, I still expect him to hit near .300. Regression for him will still have him as a very strong overall player. He though is likely to be the Marlins third best offensive player, behind Ramirez and Stanton.
Redbird Rants offers a big thank you to Ehsan for helping us with our Opening Day preview. We hope you all enjoy the game and make sure to check in tomorrow as Chris presents the first post-game wrap-up of the season!