BOSTON — No one really knows the worth of a clubhouse full of guys who love being around each other. But plenty of players and coaches will attest that the opposite — a team where players don't hang out, or have trouble being loose together — can definitely stall out any chances that talent and good play have at winning some games.
The Marlins will be a good test case this year for how clubhouse chemistry can help a team.
The Miami clubhouse can be a lively place, with players loosening up to pregame music and ribbing each other before heading out for batting practice. Even for newcomers like Jose Reyes, who came to the Marlins this offseason after spending the first nine years of his career with the Mets, it's been any easy place to fit in.
"You know, we're feeling good," he said of the team's mentality. "It's good chemistry here. That's what you want when you've got a ball club. You want everyone to get along good. We have very good communication here."
Reyes said he became comfortable with the team during spring training, where he already knew some guys on his new squad from playing against them in the American League East. His new teammates weren't shy about poking fun.
"I'm the guy who's always going to be smart around the guys, making fun of people, so I know how to put up with that," Reyes said.
Starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, who also came to Miami in the offseason, said he hasn't seen much that's different with this club — but that's a good thing.
"You've got your mix of guys, and your little cliques of guys who hang out off the field," he said, "but as far as everybody in here, everybody's pulling together and trying to do the same thing."
Lefty reliever Randy Choate, who is in his second year with the Marlins and his 12th in the league, said this year already feels like an upgrade from last season. He also pointed to the chemistry, where a few veteran additions — like Reyes — have helped a club stocked full of young talent that has come up in the Marlins organization.
"Even though we're struggling right now, I think [the chemistry] helps because we signed a couple of guys who are veterans," he said. "[When] things are going really good, you ride that high too much, or really bad, and you ride that low too much, and these guys are all guys that have pretty much been steady, and that's what they're here for — just to provide that veteran leadership.
"We have a lot of homegrown talent that's younger and needs to see that kind of leadership in the clubhouse and on the field and how to make it through the whole season. Last year, we had some young guys and not as much veteran leadership, and it kind of fell apart and really went to the deep end."
Last year, the Marlins ripped off a hot start, riding a seemingly solid rotation and young talent at the plate. Some predicted a top finish in the tough National League East. But just as quickly as the success began, the then-Florida Marlins fell back to earth.
After jumping out to a 24-16 record, they sank to .500 by mid-June. After two months of middling baseball, they got back to .500 in August then promptly lost seven games in a row. Their record at the end of the year was 72-90.
This year, the Marlins started slow then had one of the hottest months in the major leagues. After a 24-16 start, Miami won seven games in a row at the beginning of May and posted a 21-8 record overall in the month.
But June has been as bad for the Marlins as May was good. They've lost six in a row and seen their record drop to 33-34.
"We were so good in one month," manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I'm surprised how you can be so good in one month and so bad right [after]."
But Guillen said he isn't discouraged by how the team has been playing. He sounded happy about the players' work ethic, even if the win-loss record isn't cooperating.
"The energy's there. The effort is there," Guillen said. "If I see you don't play hard, and the way we're playing, you're going to have a very good chance to be motivated [by me] the wrong way. And I don't want that to happen."
His optimism was reflected in the clubhouse, which was loose and full of players hanging out despite another loss the night before.
"Even though we might be having a tough June, there's no reason we can't pull out of it," Choate said.
He admitted the Marlins are in a different boat than the Red Sox or Yankees, which are stocked full of guys who have been playing for years.
"But here," Choate said, "I think our chemistry is what's going to help us get through this month, whereas — not that we weren't good teammates last year — this year, there's a different vibe, and it's not everybody. They're not panicking this year. … We'll figure it out and find our way, but I think the experience and definitely the veterans will help us this year."
Even if it's just a few new guys joining Miami this season, they all seem to be saying the same thing: The Marlins may be losing, but it doesn't have to stay that way.
"It's kind of tough when things don't go the way you want to," Reyes said. "When you lose a ball game, you're trying to stay up and still to believe and to stay confident. That's the key. When we lost the game, we just say, 'Keep your head up, and try to get it tomorrow,' because this is a long season, and you never know what's going to happen."
The results are still out on whether Miami's clubhouse atmosphere will get the Marlins out of their losing funk, or keep the team from a slide like last year's.
But the Marlins seem set on keeping the team together and staying optimistic. And in a league that often takes more than it gives, that seems like the perfect place to be for a young team full of talent.