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| Sports |

Midseason Marlins: Uggh-la, Trade for Branyan, and Here Come the Phillies

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Dan Uggla has yet to recover from last year's disastrous All-Star game. He committed three errors and struck out three times in that Midsummer Classic. Since that game, he is hitting .227 with 25 homers while striking out 153 times in 152 games.  To put it into perspective, Uggla came into last year's All-Star contest looking like a budding superstar. He had hit .286 and an astonishing 23 homers in 81 games.

Riptide doesn't suggesting there's a Marlins All-Star curse -- Hanley Ramirez's underwhelming 0-for-3 Tuesday night isn't cause for concern. But what should worry Marlins fans is the inconsistent offense that can really only be fixed through a trade or two this month.

Last year the Marlins were a softball-style team that slugged homers and won ballgames solely with the longball. Not this year. Out of the 30 teams, the Marlins are ranked 13th in runs, 17th in homers, 21st in batting average, and 21st in slugging percentage. And no team has struck out more than the Marlins. 

So how do you fix the offense and not break the bank? By going after diamonds-in-the-rough such as Luke Scott. Scott only earns $2.4 million, but the Orioles' outfielder has clubbed 18 homers while batting .305. The Florida native would not be hard to pry away from Baltimore because their outfield is loaded with younger talent. Moving Scott makes sense for the Orioles.

Baltimore's first baseman and former Hurricane Aubrey Huff could also be a nice acquisition for the Marlins. He's batting .259 with 11 homers; the veteran lefty has driven in runs throughout his career and his $8 million price tag isn't astronomical.

Perhaps the most cost-friendly potential slugger out there is Russell Branyan. The lefty first-baseman is hitting .280 with 22 home runs while only earning $1.4 million this season. The Mariners are still technically in the race, but a decent offer from the Marlins could net them the power-hitting lefty they have been craving for years.

At this time last season, Manny Ramirez was being shopped around. The Marlins were one of the frontrunners to net the enigmatic superstar. But the Fish balked at his cost and Manny found himself on the Dodgers; the team he carried all the way to the playoffs. Acquiring Manny would probably have been the only way for the Marlins to make the playoffs last season because the NL East was loaded with talent.

This year, the NL East is there for the taking. The Mets have been hammered by injuries, the Braves' offense lacks any punch, and the Phillies are pinning their hopes on Pedro Martinez to rescue one of the worst pitching staffs in the league. Aside from Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez, and Cody Ross, the Marlins have been inconsistent and shaky at times, but they still have a winning record and are only four games from first place.

A Manny-sized deal isn't necessary to secure first place this year but acquiring relievers Brendan Donnelly and Luis Ayala isn't enough to overtake the Fightin' Phils. Just a little more offense to protect Hanley could send the Marlins into October as NL East Champions. Acquiring Scott or Branyan wouldn't take an elite prospect and it would be frugal enough for the budget-conscious Marlins.

Whatever Beinfest and Co. decide to do, they better do it quickly because the Phillies are in town this weekend for a four-game separate-the-men-from-the-boys series. Three wins for the Marlins and it's go get offense and hunker down for the stretch run. Three losses and it might be better luck next year.   

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