The Cubs’ postseason journey began Wednesday against the Miami Marlins.
For some current Cubs players, this Marlins team is reminiscent of the 2015 Chicago Cubs team that took the National League Central by surprise, winning 97 games and making it to the NLCS.
Outfielder Kyle Schwarber told Russell Dorsey of the Chicago Sun-Times he expects the Marlins to play like they have nothing to lose. Indeed, “Schwarbs” would seem to have a point given Miami’s 5-1 Game 1 win on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
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Miami is in its first postseason since 2003, when the Marlins defeated the Cubs in the NLCS en route to a second World Series. Almost nobody expected the Marlins to be here, even in a season as unprecedented as this one.
Miami was the first club to have a real outbreak of COVID-19. The Marlins had to answer questions about off-field activities and congregations almost as soon as their season got started.
Soon enough, however, the focus would turn to Miami’s strong play on the field.
The Marlins cemented their place in the postseason picture, even becoming buyers at the trade deadline. Miami traded for outfielder Starling Marte to add some more pop in the lineup, but it also got tremendous production from veterans such as Jesus Aguilar and Miguel Rojas.
Now, Miami hopes to pull the shock of shocks this season by making a deep October run. Much like the 2015 Cubs, they will need their young stars to take center stage. But unlike the 2015 Cubs, the youngsters Miami will rely on are in the rotation.
The Marlins sent Sandy Alcantara to the hill in Game 1 – and he was electric, firing 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball to pick up the victory. He’ll be followed by Sixto Sanchez in Game 2 and, if necessary, Pablo Lopez in Game 3.
The 24-year-old Alcantara had a 3.00 ERA in seven regular season starts. He does not generate a ton of swings-and-misses, but, as we saw firsthand on Wednesday, he has good velocity and pounds hitters into the ground with his sinker.
Sanchez struggled in his final two starts of the year, giving up nine earned runs in seven innings of work between his last two starts. But the 21-year-old has dominant stuff, ranking in the 97th percentile in fastball velocity and 84th percentile in xwOBA, per Baseball Savant. He also has three plus pitches and can move the ball both ways.
Pablo Lopez would go should the series need a decider, and he actually has the best peripherals of the group (3.09 FIP and 9.3 K/9).
In any case, the Marlins will be hoping their young starters can eat innings and take the pressure off an offense that ranked 11th in the NL in runs scored and a bullpen that ranked 29th in fWAR, per FanGraphs.
The Cubs might be the higher seed, but Schwarber and Co. recognize a team with something to prove. After all, they were that group in 2015 before winning the World Series in 2016.
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Chicago will need its own positional stars to get hot and the right time and rattle Miami’s starting group. The established Cubs need to apply the pressure from the jump, rather than risk the hungry Marlins ending things far earlier than expected.