- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 28, 2009

POINT/COUNTERPOINT

MARK ZUCKERMAN: As much as I want to believe in the Marlins and as much as I’ve come to respect general manager Larry Beinfest for his ability to keep putting quality young players out there despite tough payroll restrictions, I’m just not sure I see these guys hanging on. The lineup still has a couple of thumpers - Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu - and I like Chris Volstad and a healthy Josh Johnson at the top of the rotation. But their bullpen is uninspiring, and their defense is shaky. I still think they’re a class below the Phillies and Mets.

BEN GOESSLING: It’s going to be a lot of the same issues the Marlins had last year. There’s no question their offense is good enough to sustain them, even with some proven hitters they traded away. And I’d add Ricky Nolasco to the list of their impressive young starters. But I share your concerns about the bullpen and defense (especially Uggla). The Mets and Phillies aren’t without problems, but those teams have proven bullpens to get them out of messes. The Marlins don’t.

MZ: They already may be falling apart. The Marlins blew a pair of ninth-inning leads over the weekend to the Phillies and entered Monday on a six-game losing streak. They’re still in first place, but let’s remember how they got there. Florida has gone 6-0 against those mighty Washington Nationals. Against everyone else, they’re 5-7.

BG: That’s a pretty similar pattern to how they went 84-77 last year. Against the Nationals, they were 14-3; they were 70-74 against everybody else. I’m not saying the Marlins don’t have the Nationals’ number, but to expect them to win five out of every six for a second year in a row is a little hard to believe. If they find a way to shore up their bullpen, I could see them making a run - but not without better relief pitching.

MLB POWER POLL

Rank, Team Record Comment

1. RED SOX 12-6 10-game winning streak, including weekend sweep of Yankees

2. DODGERS 13-6 Andre Ethier (Five HR, 20 RBI, 1.037 OPS) is out-Mannying Manny

3. CARDINALS 13-6 Ryan Franklin (Five saves, 0.00 ERA) has seized closer’s role

4. BLUE JAYS 14-6 Lead the AL in batting average, runs, doubles and walks

5. PHILLIES 9-8 Offense is clicking, but pitching staff has to get it together

6. MARINERS 12-7 Strong pitching has spurred Seattle’s surprising start

7. PIRATES 11-7 2.97 ERA is majors’ best, but can this possibly last?

8. MARLINS 11-7 6-0 against Nationals, 5-7 against everyone else

9. CUBS 9-8 Hot start from Kosuke Fukudome just what he and they needed

10. TIGERS 10-8 AL’s most-productive hitter to date: Brandon Inge?

* Records through Sunday

AWARD TRACKER

Looking at the front-runners for baseball’s season awards. This week: NL MVP.

ALBERT PUJOLS, Cardinals

Just when you think Prince Albert can’t possibly get better, he does. Through the season’s first three weeks, Pujols leads the NL in homers, RBI, runs, slugging and OPS. He’s on pace for 60 homers, 213 RBI, a .343 average, 136 walks and - get this - 34 strikeouts.

Others to watch: ANDRE ETHIER, Dodgers; ADRIAN GONZALEZ, Padres; KOSUKE FUKUDOME, Cubs.

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