Along with unfortunate references to Green Day and U2, the South Florida Sentinel’s Mike Bernadino hails the young Marlins (“what Joe Girardi’s boys have done over the past five weeks has been nothing short of remarkable”) and proposes what would’ve been unthinkable just a few weeks ago — Jeffrey Loria should increase the payroll!

Despite using 20 rookies, these Marlins have pulled within 6½ games of the wild card. By comparison, the 2003 Marlins were 4½ games from the wild card when they made the epic July trade for Ugie Urbina.

I’m not saying they are one deal away from winning their third World Series. But it is intriguing to consider what they might be able to accomplish with a few choice additions to an impressive young core.

Of the eight teams ahead of the Marlins in the wild-card standings, just two have better run differentials. And the Padres (plus-9) and Giants (plus-5) were hardly blowing away the Marlins (plus-3).

America hasn’t seen this much mediocrity under one heading since the Backstreet Boys’ farewell tour.

This is also the first year of testing for amphetamines, which means youth should be served even more than usual once the dog days arrive.

There’s also the Marlins’ farm system, which is rolling out top arms the way Honda does hybrids. Yankee-killer Anibal Sanchez is the latest, and more are on the way.

But first, the Marlins should step up their search for an upgrade in center field, where their production ranks 13th in the league and they recently passed on Joey Gathright after an earlier flirtation.

So far the Marlins have used rookies Reggie Abercrombie and Eric Reed out there. They have used utility infielder Alfredo Amezaga, bless his heart.

For some reason they have not used slugging Joe Borchard, who came up through the White Sox system as a center fielder and said Monday he is “very comfortable” at the position.

Lately, they have started throwing Jeremy Hermida, a natural right fielder, into the mix. On Monday’s second pitch, Hermida and right fielder Cody Ross let a Julio Lugo fly ball drop between them for a double.

You know who might have caught that ball? Juan Pierre, that’s who.

Yeah, I know, he’s having a horrible season for the Cubs. And, yes, he is making $5.75 million as he straggles toward free agency.

But once the Cubs decide to pack it in, the Marlins should consider taking Pierre off their hands. They won’t have to give back Ricky Nolasco, and they might even get the Cubs to pay the bulk of the remaining money.

The Astros may be souring on Willy Tavares. Luis Matos is buried on the Orioles bench. And if Choo Freeman keeps improving in Colorado, maybe the Rockies would talk about speedy Cory Sullivan.

Calling for the firing of Dusty Baker, saying the Cubs manager “accepts no blame for a Cubs team headed toward its first 100-loss season since 1966”, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Chris DeLuca is struck by the lack of accountability.

Big-money managers earn their paychecks by guiding teams through troubled times. Baker has spent the last two months quietly complaining about the loss of Lee and pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, bemoaning on a regular basis, ”I just want my team back.”

It seems that would send a message that Baker can’t win with the 25 healthy players remaining. That kind of talk is counterproductive when trying to motivate players.

”No, I don’t think that sends a message,” Baker said. ”The players who are there aren’t Derrek Lee. The young pitchers that are there, they realize they are not Mark Prior or Kerry Wood yet. I don’t think that sends a bad message. That’s an honest message. It’s no slight against them.”

But it’s ridiculous to blame the Cubs’ collapse on the loss of one position player — albeit the reigning National League batting champ — and two pitchers who have a history of injury problems. Even the Florida Marlins, with 15 rookies and a payroll less than $15 million, have a better record than Baker’s Cubs.
Meanwhile, broadcaster Bob Brenly, who guided the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series championship in 2001, has stepped up his on-air criticism of Baker. A year ago, Brenly seemed terrified to say anything that would upset the overly touchy Cubs brass.

”I don’t have a response,” Baker said. ”Bob is doing his job. That’s what he sees.”

If Brenly is doing his job, what is Baker doing?

”We’re not playing well, for whatever reasons, but no alibis, no excuses,” Baker said. ”We just have to get it done, simple as that. Please, no more ‘Are you getting fired?’ questions.”