Originally created 05/07/99

Marlins could be even worse than last year



MIAMI -- Matt Mantei is the closer for the Florida Marlins, which is a lot like being their third-base coach or director of ticket operations, because he has plenty of idle time.

One month and 28 games into the season, Mantei still awaits his first save opportunity.

"Isn't that weird?" he said. "Every night in the fifth inning, I get ready. But ..."

But when your team is losing, there's no chance for a save. And Florida is losing at a record pace.

It's an appalling prospect: The Marlins may be even worse than last year, when they lost 108 games, the most in the National League since 1969. Florida goes into a weekend series at Los Angeles with an eight-game losing streak and a 6-22 record.

For the entire season, the Marlins' won-loss percentage of .214 projects to a major-league record 127 defeats.

"It's frustrating to come in every day and see the loss column keeps getting worse," Mantei said. "I go places and hope people don't recognize me."

That's rarely a problem in a city that has lost interest in baseball. The Marlins sold a franchise-low 9,500 season tickets, and this week they drew the two smallest home crowds in their seven-year history on back-to-back nights.

"It's to be expected," new owner John Henry said. "We're not winning any games. The only thing that bothers me about having small crowds is for the players.

"It's not the players' fault. It's not management's fault. This is all the result of decisions that were made a long time ago."

The Marlins' misery began when Henry's predecessor, Wayne Huizenga, dismantled the 1997 World Series champions. Florida started to rebuild with youth last season, and this spring's horrible start is distressing because the players and management thought the worst was over.

"Of course it's harder this year," second-year right fielder Mark Kotsay said. "You lose 108 games, and you come in here expecting to do better, and then you do this crummy."

"Crummy" is not the exact word Kotsay used, but it'll do. At midweek Florida ranked last in the NL in seven offensive categories, including runs, home runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Pitching ranked last in five categories, and the Marlins' defense had allowed the most unearned runs.

As a result, Florida is 3-20 against right-handers, 1-8 in day games, 0-5 in one-run games, 0-4 in two-run games and 0-1 in extra innings.

New manager John Boles, who prepared for the season by reading articles about patience, described his team's record as bitterly disappointing. But he remains relentlessly upbeat.

"The guys in the clubhouse are going to keep battling," Boles said. "If there are people who are not of that mindset, then we change those people."

Boles' problem -- aside from hitting, pitching and defense -- is that his team is simply too young. Kevin Orie is the oldest infielder and Cliff Floyd the oldest outfielder. Both are 26. With Alex Fernandez struggling to recover from rotator cuff surgery and back on the disabled list, the 12 active pitchers have a total of 77 career victories.

"Maybe if we got a couple of older guys, they would help us win some games, but why do that?" said Mantei, 25. "Just let these guys play. We're going to be a good team once everybody starts clicking."

Don't look for that to happen this weekend, when Florida's feeble bats go against Darren Dreifort, Kevin Brown and Chan Ho Park.

"The Dodgers can't do anything more to us than what's been done," Boles said. "It's not like their pitching is going to stymie us more than we've been stymied.

"All I can tell you is that we're going to keep fighting -- end of story."