CHICAGO -- The Wild Card Series between the Cubs and Marlins will be a tale of two franchises.
On one side, you have a Cubs team filled with October-tested veterans and a core group that has delivered a World Series championship (2016) and five postseason trips in six years. On the other side, you have the Marlins -- arguably MLB's biggest surprise in this unprecedented season -- making the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.
“This is the hardest baseball season, I think, anybody's ever really had to go through,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Whoever wins the World Series this year should be extremely proud of overcoming adversity, keeping your team healthy through all this, and together.”
The Cubs ended as the National League Central champions for the first time since 2017 to earn the No. 3 seed, while Miami finished second in the NL East to secure the No. 6 seed in the revised playoff format.
Facing the Cubs at Wrigley Field will naturally resurface memories of the 2003 National League Championship Series, won by the Marlins in seven games, with the historical Game 6 being one of the most talked about playoff games in the past 20 years.
This is the Marlins’ third playoff appearance. In their previous two -- 1997 and 2003 -- they won World Series titles. So they have the distinction of never losing a postseason series.
The 2020 team has a chance to make its own mark in club history. No matter how far the Marlins ultimately go, you can’t dismiss the improbable path to the postseason during this 60-game season. They also have reached the playoffs after going 57-105 in 2019.
“You have to have that faith,” said Marlins skipper Don Mattingly, a serious NL Manager of the Year candidate. “That's why this feels so good, to get to this point. Obviously, we think this is the beginning of that, not the end of it. ... We've got to move forward.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 1 of the Wild Card Series between the Cubs and Marlins will be played this afternoon, with Game 2 set for Thursday. If necessary, Game 3 will be played Thursday. Game 1 will be at 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT on ABC. Game 2 (time TBA) will be aired on an ESPN channel (same for Game 3, if necessary).
What do the starting lineups look like?
Marlins: The acquisition of Starling Marte from the D-backs on Aug. 31 stabilized and lengthened the lineup. Mattingly has adjusted his lineup depending on whether there is a right-hander or lefty on the mound for the Marlins’ opponent. Corey Dickerson has led off against right-handers.
- Corey Dickerson, LF
- Starling Marte, CF
- Jesús Aguilar, 1B
- Brian Anderson, 3B
- Garrett Cooper, 1B
- Matt Joyce, RF
- Jon Berti, 2B
- Miguel Rojas, SS
- Chad Wallach, C
Cubs: Ross has moved some lineup pieces around over the past two weeks in an effort to jump-start his offense. This is one variation on how the starting nine could look. Ross likes to balance the lineup from top to bottom, if possible. Either Victor Caratini or Willson Contreras often serves as the DH, with the other doing the catching. As a team, Chicago is prone to strikeouts, but the team can see a ton of pitches, draw walks and hit the baseball out when the group is functioning properly. Ian Happ (131 wRC+) and Jason Heyward (130 wRC+) have helped carry the lineup during some uncharacteristic struggles by the stars.
- Ian Happ, CF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Kyle Schwarber LF
- Willson Contreras, C
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Javier Báez, SS
- Victor Caratini, DH
- Jason Kipnis, 2B
Who are the starting pitchers?
Marlins: By clinching Friday, the Marlins set themselves up to have their main three starters ready for Game 1 in the best-of-three series -- Sandy Alcantara, rookie Sixto Sánchez and Pablo López. Mattingly noted that Alcantara (3-2, 3.00 ERA) is the ace, and he's the choice for the series opener. Game 2 belongs to Sánchez (3-2, 3.46 ERA), who scuffled in his last two regular-season starts, giving up nine runs in seven innings. Still, the rookie has electric stuff and has shown that over his first seven MLB starts. Miami will turn to López (6-4, 3.61 ERA) in Friday's Game 3, if necessary.
Cubs: Ross named Kyle Hendricks his Game 1 starter, but the manager said he had "two aces" and easily could've picked Yu Darvish, too. One driving factor behind the decision was days of rest, given that Hendricks most recently started on Wednesday. Hendricks quietly finished second in the NL in innings (81 1/3) this season and ended with a 2.88 ERA, 64 strikeouts and just eight walks. Darvish, who will start Game 2, has been an NL Cy Young Award contender this season with a 2.01 ERA and an NL-leading 3.0 WAR (FanGraphs), but his dominance can be traced back to the second half of last year. Since then, Darvish has a 2.40 ERA with 211 strikeouts and 21 walks in 157 2/3 innings. If the series were to reach Game 3, Jon Lester and his 2.51 career postseason ERA (154 innings) would likely take the ball for the North Siders.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Marlins: Shortly after signing as a free agent in the offseason, Brandon Kintzler sent a text to Mattingly, proclaiming the Marlins would “make some noise” in 2020. The 36-year-old’s belief in the team proved correct. Kintzler’s ability to lock down games was a factor. The veteran saved 12 of his 14 chances, including his final three opportunities with postseason implications. Right-handers Brad Boxberger and Yimi García have been reliable setup options in the seventh and eighth innings. Left-hander Richard Bleier and right-hander James Hoyt were key in-season additions, and in long relief, Trevor Rogers is available.
Cubs: At no point this season did Ross cave to the pressure of applying the “closer” label on any of his back-end arms. That gave the manager some flexibility as he navigated through some early-season bullpen woes. Jeremy Jeffress (1.54 ERA and 54.4 percent ground-ball rate) emerged as a stabilizing force, while Craig Kimbrel got his footing in August. Now, Kimbrel has struck out 26 of 49 batters faced with a 1.42 ERA in the 14 appearances leading up to October. They will be the main stoppers, but arms like Ryan Tepera (31 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings) and Jason Adam (21 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings) have joined the circle of trust. Lefties Kyle Ryan and Andrew Chafin can also serve as setup men, while a trio of starters (Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay and José Quintana) may also factor into the bullpen mix. The Cubs took a look at hard-throwing prospect Brailyn Marquez on Sunday, but he was wild in his MLB debut and it’s not clear if or when he might work into the October picture.
Any injuries of note?
Marlins: José Ureña, Miami’s fifth starter, was expected to move into the bullpen for the series. But in the third inning of Sunday’s 5-0 victory over the Yankees, Ureña sustained a non-displaced ulna fracture in his right forearm when he was struck by a DJ LeMahieu line drive, ending his season. In the second inning, the club had another scare when center fielder Starling Marte was hit on the brim of his helmet by a Clarke Schmidt fastball. The impact caused the helmet to bruise Marte’s left ear. While sore, he is expected to be ready.
Cubs: Righty Tyler Chatwood (10-day injured list, right forearm) threw a promising bullpen session recently, but he would not be expected to be available until at least the NL Division Series. Righty Rowan Wick (10-day IL, left oblique) is also out and not in the Wild Card Series equation. Bryant recently came back from a right oblique issue, but homered on Saturday and Sunday to show that he was on the mend. Utility man Ildemaro Vargas -- helpful against left-handed pitching -- is also shelved on the 10-day IL with a right hamstring setback.
Who is hot and who is not?
Marlins: Jesús Aguilar, one of the few players to stay in the lineup from the start of the season to the finish, ended up on a high note, hitting .308/.387/.538 in his final seven games. But on the other side, third baseman Brian Anderson went 1-for-13 over his final three games. However, that one hit was a home run on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
Cubs: The North Siders are hoping that their lineup as a whole is heating up, given that the team launched nine homers and scored 25 runs in the final three games of the season against the White Sox. Willson Contreras hit two homers on Friday and ended September with a .305/.420/.463 slash line. Heyward, while one of Chicago’s most steady performers all year, ended the season in a 1-for-19 funk.