Baseball teams are measured with an endless numbers, from traditional statistics to a new-age analytics such as Wins Above Replacement.
The Miami Marlins have another set of numbers unique to the season of the pandemic: As the season started, they had 18 players test positive for the coronavirus and were quarantined for a week in Philadelphia.
They used 61 players for 60 games, including pitchers manager Don Mattingly met for the first time as he brought them into a game. Olympic speed skater Eddie Alvarez played second base for 12 games. To make up games, the Marlins played a seven-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies and they played on consecutive September weekends with Friday and Sunday doubleheaders.
So, five games in five days in a best-of-five National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves seems like no big deal for the Marlins, who beat the Chicago Cubs behind young, hard-throwing pitching in the wild card round.
The Marlins and Braves, winners of the National League East, begin Tuesday at neutral-site Minute Maid Park in Houston, one of the postseason bubbles established by Major League Baseball. The Braves beat the Marlins in six of 10 regular-season games.
The Marlins, who lost 105 and 98 games in the last two seasons, won the World Series in 1997 and 2003. As they take advantage of the expanded 16-team playoff format, the Marlins will use the same one-two rotation punch that beat the 2016 World Series champion Cubs in the wild card round.
That means Sandy Alcantara, 25, who had a 3.00 ERA during the regular season, will pitch Game 1, followed by Sixto Sánchez, 22, who had six strikeouts in five innings against the Cubs.
This is what rebuilding looks like: Alcantara, a 2019 All-Star, came from St. Louis in a December 2017 trade that sent Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals. The Marlins picked up Sánchez from Philadelphia when they traded catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies. And if the Cubs series had gone three games, the Marlins would have pitcher Pablo López, a pitcher they received in a trade from the Seattle Mariners involving David Phelps.
The Marlins hit for a .203 average in winning 5-1 and 2-0 against Chicago. In each game, the Marlins had key late-inning home runs. Garrett Cooper hit one against Cubs ace Yu Darvish. The Marlins also got home runs from Corey Dickerson (against Kyle Hendricks) and Jesús Aguilar.
Atlanta isn’t going to be easy to beat because the Braves lineup is stacked. And who knows how good this team would with a healthy rotation? Pitchers Cole Hamels and Mike Soroka are sidelined with injuries.
The Braves have the leading candidate for the NL’s MVP in Freddie Freeman, who hit .341 with a .462 on-base percentage during the season. There’s also Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozuna and Adam Duvall in a lineup that was second to the Los Angeles Dodgers in runs scored (348) while ranking first in OPS (.832).
The Braves have a strong bullpen - Mark Melancon had 14 saves during the season - but the question is their rotation. Lefty Max Fried, their best pitcher, will start Game 1 followed by the inexperienced but effective Ian Anderson, who had nine strikeouts in six innings against the Reds in the wild card round. Anderson pitched to a 1.95 ERA in his six regular season starts.
The No. 3 starter is unproven prospect Kyle Wright, who had a 5.21 ERA in eight start during the regular season.
Prediction: Braves in four. The Braves offense will be the reason they advance.