The 2020 MLB postseason has finally brought to an end one of the most memorable campaigns in Major League history, for both good and bad reasons. More importantly, the road to the playoffs and the regular season overall saw many surprises which made the season interesting. Needless to mention, one of the teams that shook up the competitive balance was the sensational Miami Marlins.
Defying the odds, Don Mattingly‘s ballclub protected a fast start to finish with a 31-29 record. The Marlins appeared in their first postseason series in 17 years after grabbing the #6 seed in the NL. Furthermore, they did not disappoint in the Wildcard Round, beating the Chicago Cubs for the second straight series in the NL postseason, after the 2003 NLCS. A quick exit at the hands of the Atlanta Braves followed, but the Marlins had already massively overperformed.
Therefore, there were many heroes that contributed to a sensational Marlins’ season. Besides the rotation’s continued success, the lineup made a noticeable leap forward. Many of those key players came into the team during the eventful offseason that preceded the campaign, as well as during the season itself. Here are some of the moves which decided the season in Miami’s favor.
Claimed off waivers from TB in December
Aguilar came at a very cheap price after a quiet season with the Brewers and the Rays back in 2019. Trying to duplicate a powerful 2018 season, he posted a near career-low OBP of .325 with just 12 home runs. Tampa Bay gave up on Aguilar, placing him on waivers with three years left on his deal.
Despite regularly batting in the second slot in the lineup, Aguilar did a lot to provide both power and consistent base-reaching to a hole-ridden Marlins’ lineup. His .352 on-base percentage marked a career-high accomplishment and tied with his 2018 figure. His eight homers were just four of his 12 in 71 more games in 2019. Moreover, his 34 RBI were on pace to near his career-high of 108 in 2018. Aguilar placed fourth within his team in OBP but his accomplishment is more impressive given he had more at-bats than all three players above him.
By both hitting for power and reaching base, Aguilar established himself as a cornerstone in the lineup. Out of the second spot, his power-hitting was less on display than during other years, but still highly impactful in the Marlins’ environment. He got on base regularly and multiplied the impact of other players with big campaigns, like Miguel Rojas and Brian Anderson. Given that he was acquired for virtually nothing, and is owed just $6 million over 2020-2021, this was certainly the best move by the Marlins front office prior to the 2020 season.
Acquired on August 31st from ARI in exchange for starter Caleb Smith and two minor-leaguers
Marte was one of the most productive outfielders in the National League during the first half of the season with Arizona. Once he joined the Marlins as a leadoff hitter, his numbers declined significantly. For instance, his batting average is just sub-.250 and his OBP is slightly below the .290 mark. This is comparable to the identical numbers of outfield signing Corey Dickerson, who posted 0.0 WAR in 52 games.
The Marte trade (on the day of the trade deadline) looked very reasonable, even cheap to a certain extent. Smith had posted a disappointing first start of the season against the Phillies, then had landed on the COVID-19 list. The Marlins farm system, meanwhile, is beyond loaded with talented pitchers. With Elieser Hernandez and Pablo Lopez being pleasing surprises, and Sixto Sanchez standing out in his debut year, Smith was a piece easy to trade away.
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The Dominican is still likely to provide a valuable upside in the remaining year of his $31-million contract. He was a part of the tier of great/lower-elite players from 2019 until his Diamondbacks exit, posting 4.2 WAR and .490 slugging percentage, alongside a .350 OBP. However, it needs to be mentioned that he did not provide a positive turnout in his month and a half in Miami. Yet, this deal could be credited with addressing yet another hole in Miami’s lineup.
Marte’s power (4 homeruns, 13 RBI) was still big enough of a factor for the Marlins to now have a solid offensive outlook with the return of Miguel Rojas and the presence of Anderson, Aguilar, and Dickerson. While Aguilar’s acquisition gave Miami the core of their success, Marte’s deal brought them the final piece at the plate. There’s still work to be done in the lineup but, given Marte is in his usual shape, the 32-year-old outfielder could contribute to an even greater extent during the campaign when he’s owed $12.5 million.
Called up to the majors on August 22nd
The stakes were always very high in Sanchez’s case. Entering the 2020 season, he was the organization’s top prospect. While the Dominican starting pitcher’s ceiling had been deemed high, the 22-year-old was a risk at the time when he made his debut as the Marlins needed pitching help. Few thought he could come near his best in 2020, a year during which he didn’t even have the minor league as a warm-up, but he did just that.
Sixto Sanchez was terrific during his short first campaign on the major-league level. In seven starts, he posted a 3.76 ERA with a nine-inning average of 7.6 strikeouts, fewer than three walks, and mere 0.7 homeruns. His 33 strikeouts were three times more than the number of bases on balls he gave up, 11. Furthermore, he had a very impressive start in the second game of the Wildcard series, pitching five scoreless innings at Wrigley Field in an eventual 2-0 Miami win. He followed that up by allowing four in three innings against the Braves a few days later.
Not only did Sanchez pitch well enough to win a spot in the top half of the rotation but he also provided reinforcements when Miami desperately needed some. The rotation was shorthanded from the very start when Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith were out with coronavirus. When Jordan Yamamoto was temporally sent down for performance issues, the Marlins needed depth, which they actually receiver ten days later by adding Sanchez to the MLB roster.
Sixto Sanchez promises to at least be a vital part of the pitchers battling for a rotation spot next spring. Whether his short success is sustainable over a longer period of time is still unknown but the young pitcher definitely both impressed and helped the Marlins en route to a memorable 2020.
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