Before the Major League Baseball season had even started, the Marlins were considered out of reach of playoff contention in 2020. They were viewed as a spoiler team, given only an eight percent chance of making the postseason in July. Outside of the Marlins clubhouse and organization, few believed this team was capable of greatness in an abbreviated 60-game season. They were universally belittled, and their 57-105 record in 2019 – the third worst in all of baseball – was enough to justify that, even for devout Marlins fans.
However, one moment early in the season turned the tide for this organization and set the Marlins on a thrilling course towards their first postseason appearance since their 2003 World Series title. After their Opening Day victory on July 24 against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Marlins were labelled “the bottom feeders” in the competitive National League East division by Phillies broadcaster Ricky Bottalico. From that point forward, the Marlins have embraced being the league’s bottom feeders. Using Bottalico’s scrutiny as their rallying call, the Marlins have arguably been one of the most exciting stories in all of baseball.
Three games into the season, the team suffered a coronavirus outbreak that sidelined 18 of their 30 active players for roughly half of the season. From that point through their final game versus the New York Yankees, the Marlins made a total of 174 roster moves and miraculously found themselves with a 31-29 record – their first record above the .500 threshold since 2009.
Due to this year’s playoff expansion format that allowed the number of playoff teams per league to jump from five to eight, the Marlins’ record was just good enough to clinch the sixth seed in the National League, setting them up to play the 2016 World Series Champions in the Chicago Cubs.
In the newly-created best-of-three first round known as the Wild Card Series, the Marlins swept the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, proving themselves as a legitimate contender that is capable of playing quality baseball regardless of expanded playoffs.
Below is a game-by-game recap of the series, highlighting the best moments in the Marlins journey to the National League Division Series (NLDS).
Game 1, Sept. 30: Sandy Alcantara outlasts Kyle Hendricks, veteran bats power Miami’s victory
While the Chicago Cubs saw their offensive core of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo lag behind their annual averages at the plate in 2020, their starting pitching staff was terrific. In Game 1, Kyle Hendricks and his 2.88 earned run average (ERA) took the ball for Chicago, and Miami’s Opening Day starter – Sandy Alcantara – was his opponent. Alcantara, despite missing time due to coronavirus, posted a 3-2 record with a 3.00 ERA. As the Marlins’ lone All-Star in 2019, he was the clear ace for Miami in Game 1.
Through the first six frames, it was a battle of attrition between Hendricks and Alcantara. Neither pitcher overpowered the opposing offense, but a high rate of ground balls on both sides limited the scoring early. Alcantara’s only blemish of the afternoon was a solo home run off the bat of Cubs outfielder Ian Happ to put Chicago on the board, but it would ultimately be the only run the Cubs scored.
In the top half of the seventh, the Marlins pounced on a tired Hendricks for five runs, highlighted by a three-run homer from Corey Dickerson and a two-run shot from Jesus Aguilar. Forcing Hendricks out of the game after hanging a crooked number on the scoreboard, the Marlins shut down the Cubs with strong relief appearances from Yimi Garcia and former Cub Brandon Kintzler to close out Game 1.
Game 2, Oct. 2: Garrett Cooper’s Homer Backs Sixto Sanchez’s Strong Start
Continuing the narrative from Game 1, Game 2 between the Marlins and the Cubs was another low-scoring affair through much of the contest. Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish – a Cy Young award candidate in 2020 – pitched a rare gem in the postseason for the Marlins through 6.2 innings, but Marlin rookie power pitcher Sixto Sanchez was narrowly better.
Through his five scoreless innings of work, Sanchez punched out six hitters while walking two and allowing four base hits. Darvish nearly replicated that statline, but the Marlins broke through the Cubs with the long ball once again to get on the board. A deep drive from first baseman Garrett Cooper that just went over the left field wall gave Miami a 1-0 lead, and a single from centerfielder Magneuris Sierra drove in right fielder Matt Joyce to give the Marlins an insurance run over Chicago.
To close out the game, Brandon Kintzler struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth for the first time since 2013 to reel in the victory and series sweep for the Fish.
With the series win, the Marlins improved to 7-0 all-time in postseason series and will now advance to play the division-leading Atlanta Braves in the best-of-five NLDS. The action all begins this Tuesday, Oct. 6 as the Marlins look to continue their storybook run.
Featured photo via Twitter, @Marlins.