Marlins’ tumultuous 2020 season provides enthusiasm for the present and hope for the future

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Ian D’Andrea | Flickr

Gabriel Rivera, Science & Technology Editor

Before Game Two of their National League Wild Card series against the Chicago Cubs, several players of the Miami Marlins wore shirts during batting practice that read “Miami Bottom Feeders.”

That was the name bestowed upon them by Philadelphia sports anchor Ricky Bottalico after the Marlins won their first game of the shortened season against their division rivals.

“If you don’t think they’re bottom feeders, we’ll see what happens in a couple of weeks and see who’s beating up on them and who’s not,” Bottalico said. “I don’t know what you saw tonight, but I wouldn’t say they’re a juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination.”

Bottalico and the entire baseball world were justified in counting the Marlins out of any postseason possibilities at the start of the season. The club, suffering a 16-year playoff drought, lost 105 games last season and found themselves once again in rebuilding mode.

Postseason projections before the start of the shortened season gave the Marlins a mere 5% chance of making the playoffs and a less than 1% chance of winning the World Series.

In addition to these unfavorable odds, the Marlins early in their season felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. After only three games, over 20 players and coaches from the club’s opening day roster tested positive for the virus.

The Marlins’ season seemed like it was over before it even had a chance to begin. This, however, did not stop the team from fighting.

Over the course of the remaining season, the team composed of debuting rookies and seasoned veterans left it all on the field in hopes to prove their doubters wrong.

While it took 37 different pitchers to complete the season, the Marlins found themselves postseason-bound due to the new format.

This unexpected success could be attributed to several factors both on and off the field.

Throughout the season, the Marlins have been characterized by their speed on the basepaths. The club stole the second highest total in the majors this year and has several of the premier young baserunners in the league today. In a game late in the season, utilityman Jon Berti managed to steal three bases, including home, during the course of an inning.

Another central part of the Marlins’ unprecedented season has been the veteran leadership during games and inside the clubhouse. During the offseason, the Marlins signed several established players with years of experience, primarily to serve as stopgaps for when the younger talent in their farm system is ready.

Several of these veterans, however, have contributed consistent offensive production throughout the 60-game sprint. First baseman Jesús Aguilar has played in nearly every game this season for Miami and has been a reliable source of power and run production.

Miguel Rojas, the longest tenured Marlin on the roster, has been praised by several current players for his leadership throughout this unprecedented season. His performance on the field has further solidified Miami’s credibility heading into October.

“It’s been huge from two ways — on the field, performance, and off the field, as far as leadership,” Marlins’ manager Don Mattingly said. “These guys are huge because they’ve been through some stuff and they know how to keep it light. All these guys have been able to relax and keep our young guys light.

The influential veteran presence on the Marlins has allowed several of their younger prospects to flourish and put up some of their best numbers in their early careers.

Third baseman Brian Anderson has been a mainstay in the Marlins ongoing rebuild and put in one of his best seasons to date. Anderson led the Marlins in homeruns, runs batted in and wins above replacement.

Sandy Alcántara and Pablo López have both stepped up in the club’s young rotation and consistently turned in quality starts against some of the league’s best lineups.

The club’s pitching became even more formidable with the arrival of 22-year-old top pitching prospect Sixto Sánchez who in his short tenure in the big leagues has already drawn comparisons to Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martínez.

These factors have culminated in a sweep of the Cubs in the Wild Card series and has left them poised to go on a deep run this October. They will be aided by the invaluable experience of their manager Mattingly who is no stranger to both playing and managing on the road to the Fall classic.

Miami also has history working in its favor — they have never lost a postseason series. In their two previous postseason appearances, in 1997 and 2003, the Marlins went all the way to win the World Series.

The next stop for the Marlins will be at Minute Maid Park in Houston where they will face the division rival Atlanta Braves to see who moves on to the National League Championship Series.

Even if Miami falls to the Braves, the Marlins far exceeded all expectations placed upon them this season and now have a solid foundation for the future.