The Miami Marlins’ incredible 2020 run is, somehow, still well and alive. Sensationally, the team finished second in the NL East to occupy a postseason spot. That alone was seen as one of the franchise’s greatest accomplishments.
It was Miami’s just third postseason appearance in franchise history. However, the Marlins weren’t finished yet. They shocked the baseball world by knocking out the NL Central champ Chicago Cubs in a dominant fashion.
In accordance with their regular season, the display on the mound was as strong as ever. Furthermore, the club’s power-hitters also provided a positive turnout, with the long ball carrying the Marlins throughout both wins at Wrigley Field. But their next opponent is very different, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
Miami already has first-hand experience of facing the Braves in 2020. Atlanta was a tough challenge for the Marlins in the regular season and promises to be just that again in the National League Division Series. Miami lost six of ten games against the Braves between July and September, allowing 61 runs, more than against any other divisional rival.
It is no secret – the Marlins are an overwhelming underdog going up against the Braves. FanGraphs projects their chances of beating the NL East champions at an estimated 38.9 percent. That’s the lowest out of any LDS participant, even after Oakland and Tampa Bay’s ALDS Game One losses. Even their incredible starting pitching could not be enough. Nevertheless, on its best day, it could keep the team competitive in the Best-Of-Five series.
MISMATCH FOR MIAMI’S BATS
The Marlins scored seven runs over two games at Wrigley, even overcoming an early deficit in the series opener. Moreover, they used home runs from Jesus Aguilar and Corey Dickerson, and another from Garrett Cooper in Game 2, to make the difference and beat the Cubs.
Having that said, it wasn’t all that strong of an offensive display. And the Braves’ rotation could prove to be a serious challenge to even the limited positives from the Cubs series.
Scheduled for the first three games are Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Kyle Wright. Fried was one of the best starters during the shortened season, posting a 2.25 ERA with nearly 8 K/9. His ERA was the seventh-best amongst starters with more than 50 innings. In addition, he was particularly successful against the long ball, allowing mere 0.32 homers per nine.
Fried gave the Braves a flying start, pitching seven scoreless with five strikeouts and no walks in the first game against the Reds. He started what became a streak of 22 consecutive scoreless innings, en route to a dominant series win. Anderson also contributed to the pitching masterpiece by striking out nine and allowing no runs in six innings in Game 2.
Ball control will be the biggest factor for the Braves trio. The Marlins had the second-worst batting average in the Wildcard series (after the Braves; among remaining teams) but have the fourth-best on-base percentage (.320).
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COULD THE STARTERS HOLD BACK THE BRAVES’ LINEUP?
The Marlins lineup has been subpar even at its best. They hit their peak after Garrett Cooper and Miguel Rojas came back and Starling Marte became the leadoff hitter. Even after filling these holes, there were many others remaining.
In contrast, the rotation has been mostly dominant, carrying the team even when injuries and COVID-19 resulted in missing players. With 4.31 ERA, it ranked 14th, improved from last year, and limited the long-ball production of its opponents. With the top half of the rotation fully available and red-hot, a lot is expected from the first three outings from Miami starters.
Sandy Alcantara finished the season on a high note. He allowed three runs or fewer in four of five September starts. After his first post-COVID-19 outing he had an ERA of over 5.00, however, he ended the season at 3.00 with career-bests in K/9, BB/9, HR/9. His hot run into the playoffs was a big deal for the Marlins arriving in north Chicago. He capitalized on that success and did not disappoint, throwing 6.1 innings with 1 run and 3 walks.
Two days later, rookie sensation Sixto Sanchez continued his first-year dominance with another quality start. The former top prospect recorded five scoreless innings. Sanchez solidified his place as a top-three Miami starter long ago. Now, he’s genuinely dangerous to a Braves lineup which is far from its peak.
Pablo Lopez is also set to make his postseason debut in his third and breakout year with the organization. Lopez stood out for Miami in the regular season, posting a 3.61 ERA with 9.3 strikeouts per nine. With the Marlins bullpen, and Brandon Kinzler in particular, also starting the postseason in perfect fashion, the Marlins might be a problem for a Braves batting order that only had a .262 OBP against the Cardinals.
Realistically, the postseason is a game of matchups and components that directly face each other. Both pitching staff will dominate its opposing lineups provided nobody’s production dramatically slows down. Therefore, the Marlins have more holes in their batting order, whereas the Braves are a lot more capable of not only hitting for power, but doing so consistently. This hasn’t happened yet for Atlanta but it is sure to translate into rare but big scoring runs while the Marlins struggle to put runs on the board.
Nonetheless, Miami is capable of taking this series further than the three regularly-scheduled clashes. Prediction – Braves in 4.
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