MIAMI (AP) -Miguel Cabrera backs away from the plate, rubs his knee, arches his back, stretches his arms, spits, taps each shoe with his bat, steps back into the box, adjusts his helmet, scuffs the dirt, crouches and gives the bat a menacing waggle.
Then he swings and misses. The Florida Marlins have struck out again.
Cabrera and his teammates swing for the fences, and often they miss. Marlins hitters are on pace to set a major league record for strikeouts, and on Monday they fanned 14 times against Brad Penny of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But the Marlins also began the week leading the National League in runs, slugging and total bases, and they have five players on pace to hit more than 20 home runs.
``What does that tell you?'' hitting coach Jim Presley said. ``If we cut down on our aggressiveness, I think that hurts us. We are a young, get-after-it, hacking ballclub. We like to swing that bat, and striking out is part of it.
``If that's our only drawback, we're going to be OK.''
The Marlins are struggling to stay around .500, but not because of their offense. Injuries have sent four starting pitchers to the disabled list, disrupting a rotation touted as the team's strength, and newcomer Jorge Julio quickly became a bust in the closer's role.
But with the youngest team in the majors, the Marlins are on pace to break franchise records for runs and homers set last year.
They're also striking out an average of nine times per game.
``It's the kind of hitters we have,'' said first baseman Mike Jacobs, one of four regulars in their second major league season.
``There's that old saying in the minor leagues that you're not going to walk to the big leagues, you're going to get there by hitting,'' Jacobs said. ``And I think a lot of us still have that mentality that we're going to stay here by hitting.
``I need to hit the ball, drive in runs, hit my home runs, hit my doubles and get my RBIs. While trying to do that, I'm probably going to strike out 100 times, maybe a little bit more.''
By Marlins standards, Jacobs is a contact hitter, with 21 strikeouts through 31 games. Like Jacobs, teammates Joe Borchard (38), Dan Uggla (33), Miguel Olivo (30), Hanley Ramirez (24), Josh Willingham (22) and Miguel Cabrera (20) are on pace to finish with more than 100 strikeouts.
``We come out swinging,'' Uggla said. ``We're not what you would call a patient team. When we hurt you, we're going to hurt you good.''
They do it playing in a pitcher's park, where the dimensions can be daunting, especially for left-handed hitters. Still, in one recent stretch Florida hit 23 homers in 13 games, the majority at home.
The lineup is built around slugger Cabrera, by far the Marlins' best-paid hitter at $7.4 million. He led the team through Monday with seven home runs, but Uggla, Willingham, Ramirez and Borchard were also on pace to finish with more than 20.
``To score like they've been scoring, it takes more than one hitter,'' Dodgers manager Grady Little said. ``You'd better be careful, because there are guys around Cabrera who can do some damage.''
When they hit the ball, that is. The Marlins' whiffability became apparent eight days into the season, when they struck out 17 times in a loss to Milwaukee. The flailing performance against Penny left them on pace to finish with 1,453 strikeouts, which would break the major league record of 1,399 set by the 2001 Brewers.
The Marlins are divided as to whether they strike out too much.
``Nobody wants to set a record for strikeouts,'' Uggla said.
``That's something we do need to work on - maybe cutting down our swings a little with two strikes,'' Willingham said.
``If we're putting up numbers,'' Jacobs countered, ``what's the difference if we're striking out a lot?''
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the strikeouts aren't a problem as long as his team keeps scoring at its current rate. Hitting coach Presley predicted the Marlins will fan less frequently as the season progresses, but he's reluctant to discourage their aggressive approach at the plate.
``It's like a thoroughbred horse, pulling back the reins on them,'' Presley said. ``We've got some good young hitters. They like to let it go. You like to harness it to a certain extent, but we don't want to cut back so much we're not scoring runs.''
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