New Look Marlins, Cardinals Kick Off 2012 Season: A Fan’s Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies were left haunted by the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of the 2011 season. Yet Phillies fans like myself took some sick pleasure in how the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa afterwards. Unfortunately, the division rival Miami Marlins had a much better offseason, as they picked up Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, a new stadium and much more.

As such, the Phillies will have an interest in seeing the first game of the baseball season on American soil. The Marlins debut their new home and new look lineup against none other than the world champion Cardinals on April 4, as they each take the field looking far different than they did six months ago.

It is more likely to be a good different for the Marlins than it is for the Cardinals, which would spell bad news for the Phillies. On the one hand, Philadelphia has to like the chance that St. Louis won't be as tough an obstacle for the NL pennant. On the other, the Phillies still have to win the NL East again first, and the Marlins could make that very difficult.

Of course, since the Marlins are led by the volatile Guillen and took a big risk moving Hanley Ramirez to third for new shortstop Reyes, Miami could host the biggest soap opera of the season. But if everyone keeps their cool, the Marlins could be one of a few teams threatening to end the Phillies' NL East reign.

The first clue as to how it might turn out comes in the season opener, where an established Marlin will make a big comeback. Miami actually hung around with Philadelphia for the first half of last year until ace Josh Johnson was sidelined for the season. Now that Johnson is fully healthy and has a lot more help on offense, he could carry the Marlins even more than Reyes and Ramirez if he pitches to Cy Young form.

As for the Cardinals, they are also missing the man that broke both Philadelphia and Texas's hearts last October. Chris Carpenter eliminated the Phillies and Rangers at the end of the NLDS and World Series, yet the St. Louis ace is now sidelined with nerve irritation. Therefore, Kyle Lohse serves as the Opening Day ace, in another example of just how different this year's Cardinals team has become.

While St. Louis and Miami look radically different now, the results could still be the same. For all we know, the Cardinals will be back on top in the NL Central five months from now, while the Marlins are out of contention again. The Phillies would prefer to have both of them out of contention, yet when it comes to these two teams, they haven't been that lucky since October 2011.

Philadelphia could have a lot of trouble with Miami over the next several months - and the Marlins were already hard to deal with when they didn't go on spending sprees. But maybe the Cardinals, of all teams, will start showing them and the rest of the NL East that the Marlins are only scary on paper. And if championships were decided on paper, the Phillies would have three or four of them by now.

Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.

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Nationals lock up Zimmerman before Phillies lock up Hamels

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Updated Wednesday, Apr 4, 2012