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Marlins showed flashes during disappointing '12

MIAMI -- With a new look, and renewed optimism, the Marlins entered 2012 expecting the best. Through the end of May, it appeared the Miami makeover was heading in the right direction, as the team entered June near the top of the National League East.

From there, everything started unraveling, and the Marlins' first year at sparkling new Marlins Park dissolved into a series of disappointments.

Rather than reaching the playoffs, the Marlins finished last in the division for the second straight year.

"What went wrong?" manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Everything. I've never seen a team lose in more different ways than the way we lose. Just name it, we did it. Bases loaded, nothing. Home run. No pitching, no catching, no managing."

Even though the team underperformed, 2012 was far from a lost year for the franchise.

Marlins Park, a retractable-roof marvel of a building, was a big hit among fans. Attendance topped two million for the first time since 1997. The artsy ballpark provides additional revenue streams and represents a rebirth of the organization.

Armed with a franchise-record $95 million payroll, the Marlins headed into Spring Training with big dreams. They had added marquee free agents Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. They felt they had a winning combination to make a serious run in the challenging NL East.

"At the Winter Meetings, the expectations were very high with the players, with the manager, with the new park, the new logo," Guillen said. "Maybe we learned from the experience it's not about new and expectations. It's about how people perform on the field. We had to figure out the right people, the right players to perform on the field."

Guillen, brought in from the White Sox with a proven track record, never was able to bring out the best in the club. Certainly, there were injuries. Giancarlo Stanton, Logan Morrison and Emilio Bonifacio each were out for lengthy periods.

More so, there was collective underachieving. Hanley Ramirez, expected to remain the face of the franchise, was unable to produce in the middle of the order.

Closing out games was a big issue. Bell had a rocky first half, converting only 19 of 25 save chances. Letting a number of games slip away early resulted in the team falling out of the race by late July.

Reyes, who excelled in the second half, also got off to a slow start. Buehrle, the veteran left-handed pickup, performed as expected, once again being an innings-eater and a fierce competitor.

The Marlins certainly felt they had the parts to compete. Five of their Opening Day position players had been an All-Star at some point in their careers. The rotation featured three more former All-Stars -- Josh Johnson, Carlos Zambrano and Buehrle. And Bell also went to the Midsummer Classic during his days in San Diego.

Yet, the talent didn't mesh into a winning team. And by July 31, the Marlins traded away Ramirez, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, Gaby Sanchez, Randy Choate and Edward Mujica.

As the losses mounted, so did assessing the blame.

"When you're in last place, then you're very dumb, because every move you make all year long and every lineup you write is bad," Guillen said. "And most of the time, we write the same lineup every day. Second-guessing a manager is the easiest thing to do in baseball, and I love to be second-guessed. I learn from that."

Record: 69-93, fifth in the NL East.

Defining moment: On July 8, the day before the All-Star break, Stanton underwent surgery to remove two cartilage fragments from his right knee.

Four days earlier, the Marlins acquired Carlos Lee in a trade with the Astros, hoping to have a formidable middle of the order that included Ramirez, Stanton and Lee.

It didn't happen. Instead, Miami lost Stanton, the team's biggest threat, for a month. So instead of reaching the All-Star break one game under .500, 42-43, the Marlins' climb back was deeper at 41-44. They weren't able to make up enough ground before the Trade Deadline, and the team opted to move in another direction.

What went right: As a team, there weren't many accomplishments. But individually, there was still plenty to be excited about.

Steve Cishek blossomed into a reliable reliever who assumed the role of closer for most of the second half. Stanton is a rising star who is showing that he has the makings of being a future league home run champion. Several players capitalized on their big league opportunities and gained valuable experience for 2013.

Rookies like Donovan Solano, Rob Brantly, Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi promise to fit into the team's plans for next year. Justin Ruggiano, acquired in a trade from the Astros in late May, should earn a spot in the outfield, either as a starter or off the bench. And Wade LeBlanc was dependable either starting or coming out of the bullpen.

Reyes, although he didn't figure in the batting title race, showed professionalism and production in the second half. He assumed a leadership role while never dropping his head.

What went wrong: Name it, and it most likely occurred. Blame can be placed in all areas of the organization, from the decision-makers to those in the dugout. At various times, there were crippling injuries. Stanton entered the season dealing with a sore left knee, and he had surgery on his right knee on July 8. Late in the year, Stanton missed time with a sore left intercostal. Bonifacio (left thumb and right knee) and Morrison (right knee surgery) were a couple of other key ailments. But the bottom line is that the players dramatically underperformed. Players with proven track records all fell into the same slides collectively. Pitching, defense and hitting all had their ups and downs. Closing out games also was an issue. Bell had his struggles, especially in the first half.

Once the loses kept coming, so did trades and distractions, which led to an even rougher second half.

Biggest surprise: Sporting the richest payroll in franchise history, the Marlins stumbled into the All-Star break under .500, and the team became sellers at the Trade Deadline. So much more was expected this season -- becoming "sellers" wasn't one of them. So instead of playing meaningful games late in the year, a number of core players were traded, and the team that finished up 2012 was dramatically different than the one that started it.

Miami Marlins, Heath Bell, Steve Cishek, Nathan Eovaldi, Austin Kearns, Logan Morrison, Jose Reyes, Donovan Solano, Giancarlo Stanton, Jacob Turner