NL East: Maybe They Need Each Other After All

Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez may not have been the friendliest of teammates but playing apart has not had a good effect on them.

Beginning in 2006, the double-play combination of Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla posed a huge threat in the middle of the Florida Marlins lineup.  Ramirez won the Rookie of the Year award in ’06, with Uggla finishing in third.  While the Marlins always seem to be in some form of rebuilding, it was pretty obvious that these two players would be the in the middle of the lineup and the middle of the field in Florida for years to come.  Unfortunately, after only a few years of playing together, the two sluggers found themselves in the middle of a souring relationship.  During the past couple seasons the rift between Uggla and Ramirez grew bigger.  Meanwhile a similar rift developed between Ramirez and then Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez.  Gonzalez didn’t last the 2010 season and is now managing the Atlanta Braves.  His second baseman?  Dan Uggla, acquired in a trade during the offseason and subsequently signed to a long-term deal.

In baseball, as anywhere else really, relationships are tricky.  Some of the most successful teams were full of teammates who didn’t quite care for each other.  Most baseball historians will point to the successful Oakland Athletics teams of the 1970′s as an example of teams that could win without great chemistry.  Musicians experience this too.  The Robinson brothers of the Black Crowes, the Gallagher brothers of the band Oasis, the entire Eagles band, as well as countless others, all had storied histories of tumultuous relationships.  But they, like the 70′s A’s, all seemed to play well together when it counted.  Which brings us back to Uggla and Ramirez.

From 2006-2010 this pair of middle infielders provided most of the Marlins offense.  The formula was simple. Ramirez would get on base and if he wasn’t already in scoring position he would steal his way there.  Then Uggla would drive him in.  In four out of those five seasons Ramirez had over 100 runs scored and Uggla had over 90 RBI’s.  The Marlins may not have made it to the postseason during this time, but it wasn’t because of these players.

The differences between Uggla and Ramirez are pretty easy to see.  Ramirez is flashy while Uggla is a bit more business-like.  Ramirez has two nicknames (El Nino and Han-Ram) while Uggla has none.  Mostly though, Ramirez has something of a moody and distracted reputation, and for Uggla, this seems to be where he had his issues.  In September 2009 the teammates argued in front of reporters over Ramirez’s request to be removed from the lineup.  The matter was quickly handled by the team behind closed doors, but reporters had seen all they needed to see.  The story went out quickly.  At the risk of stating the obvious, stories of relationship issues are juicier than stories of harmony to reporters and their readers.  Just take a look at the magazines you pass when walking through the supermarket aisles.

In 2010 the chasm between Uggla and Ramirez grew bigger.  Ramirez’s approach to the game and some of his teammates (and manager) seemed to clash with Uggla’s philosophies.  The next best thing to building around young talent is to trade some of that young talent for, well, other talent.  The Marlins broke up this double play duo this past November when they traded Uggla to the Braves for Omar Infante and Michael Dunn.  Surprisingly, this trade hasn’t quite worked out for anyone.  Infante and Dunn are having mediocre seasons, while Uggla’s performance has been nothing short of terrible.  Dan Uggla has played in all 65 of the Braves games this season and has just 16 RBI’s to show for it.  His .176 batting average, .556 OPS and nearly .100 batting average with runners in scoring position are at (or near) the bottom of the league among everyday players.

Meanwhile, Hanley Ramirez isn’t fairing much better.  The shortstop is batting .210 with a .615 OPS and only 4 home runs and 17 RBI’s.  More importantly, he hasn’t played since May 29th.  He was recently put on the disabled list (retroactively to May 30th) with a strained lower back.

On the one hand, these two players were so good in their first five seasons that it can’t be undone by two months of terrible baseball.  It’s easy to believe that whatever issues they’re experiencing at the moment will be figured out soon enough and they’ll return to their successful ways.  But for right now, the only glaring difference between their first five seasons and this one is the absence of the other player in the lineup and on the field.

It’s quiet possible that the time apart has smoothed over the differences between Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla.  At the very least it’s allowed those differences to dissipate.  For Ramirez and Uggla and their current teams, the hopes are that their skills survive the separation.

Around the Division:

Philadelphia Phillies: Barring a rainout on Sunday, the Phillies will have played 30 games in 31 days.  This may have played a role in their early June power outage as it took them until June 8th to hit their first home run this month.  An interesting game of musical chairs has developed in the Phillies bullpen.  The roles of aging and oft-injured veterans JC Romero and Jose Contreras are likely to be handed to youngsters Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo while Brad Lidge’s extended trip to the DL has given Ryan Madson time to grow into the closer role.  The Phillies starters generally give enough of a cushion to make the need for a closer a little more rare than other teams, but when called upon he has been successful this season.  It’ll be interesting to see how the young bullpen holds up later during the pennant race and into the postseason (should they get there).

Atlanta Braves: The Braves sweep of the Marlins was the first time they’ve done that in Florida since 1995, and propelled them into second place.  They won each game by one run.  Even though rookie closer Craig Kimbrel’s 5th blown save tied him for the major league lead in that catergory, he also notched his 18th save of the season this past week, extending his record (most saves by a rookie before the All-Star Break).

Florida Marlins: The Marlins are 2-11 in their last 13 games, dropping them from contenders in second place to only 1.5 games ahead of the fourth-place Mets.  Their reaction?  They fired hitting John Mallee and hired Eduardo Perez.  While it’s true that hitting has been an issue for the Marlins this season, it hasn’t been the only issue.  Their hitting probably will improve but it will be hard to tell if it was simply a matter of breaking out of a slump of if Perez will have had an impact. 

New York Mets: The Mets are getting remarkably more production out of their patchwork infield of Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Jose Reyes and Justin Turner than they were out of their opening day infield of Ike Davis, Brad Emaus, Reyes and David Wright.  This is less of a criticism on Davis and Wright (and Emaus, I guess) and more praise for the job that manager Terry Collins has done in getting the most out of relatively unappreciated players like Turner, Murphy and Tejada.  This may make for some interesting decisions when Wright and Davis return, but interesting decisions are probably a welcomed element in Flushing.

Washington Nationals: Minor league outfielder Bryce Harper’s ability with the bat continues to outpace his maturity.  A recent incident in which he showed up the opposing pitcher got all the news, but some boneheaded baserunning gaffes were an even bigger issue for his team this past week.  The Nationals seem to be handling the situation well as they’re not giving in to the tantalizing numbers that Harper is putting up, nor are they listening to the fans’ demands to move him quickly through the system.  The Nationals were expected to lose this season and they’re living up (down?) to those expectations.  If they can remain patient they have a better shot of getting more out of Harper in the long run.  Of course, this is the same front office that drastically overpaid Jason Werth to be mediocre (and now bat leadoff??).

Shai Kushner is a Senior Writer for  Email Shai at:  Follow Shai on Twitter at: @BD_ShaiKushner.