Marlins ride ‘Why not us?’ mantra to October

September 26th, 2020

“Why not us?” became the Marlins’ battle cry from the moment MLB announced there would be a 60-game season.

That message was delivered from chief executive officer Derek Jeter to president of baseball operations Michael Hill to manager Don Mattingly and his staff to the players, who bought in.

The Marlins have now made their mission a reality. In the process, they ended a 16-year playoff drought, the longest in the National League, and they are in the postseason for the first time since winning the World Series in 2003.

Able to overcome a COVID-19 outbreak that landed 18 players on the injured list the first week of the season, the Marlins stayed remarkably focused to become one of the top underdog stories in the sport.

“Like I said in Spring Training, we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Opening Day starter Sandy Alcantara said. “We did. We’ve got to keep doing it. We’ve got to keep fighting.”

Here’s a look at how the Marlins -- who were 57-105 in 2019 – made it to the postseason in ‘20.

How they were built:

Amateur Draft: 3B Brian Anderson, LHP Trevor Rogers, C Chad Wallach

International signings: RHP José Ureña

Free agents: INF Jon Berti, RHP Brad Boxberger, OF Corey Dickerson, RHP Yimi García, RHP Brandon Kintzler, OF Matt Joyce, RHP Nick Vincent

Trades: RHP Sandy Alcantara, C Jorge Alfaro, OF Lewis Brinson, DH/1B Garrett Cooper, LHP Richard Bleier, INF Jazz Chisholm, OF Monte Harrison, RHP James Hoyt, RHP Pablo López, CF Starling Marte, LHP Dan Castano, RHP Ryne Stanek, RHP Sixto Sánchez, SS Miguel Rojas, OF Magneuris Sierra; LHP Stephen Tarpley

Waivers: 1B/DH Jesús Aguilar

The Marlins are seeing a return on numerous trades. Of the 28 players on the roster, 16 were acquired in trades, including three fixtures in the rotation -- Alcantara, López and Sánchez. Alcantara was part of the Marcell Ozuna trade with the Cardinals after the 2017 season, while Sánchez was in the deal with the Phillies for J.T. Realmuto after the ‘18 season. López joined Miami from the Mariners in July 2017 in the David Phelps trade.

Key offseason/in season acquisitions: Claiming Aguilar off waivers from the Rays, along with signing free agents like Dickerson, Joyce and Kintzler added plenty of veteran leadership and production to a youthful core. Additionally, acquiring Marte at the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline solidified center field and added a big bat to the lineup.

Managerial decision: With so much roster turnover, Mattingly did plenty of mixing and matching, especially in the first month. Some lineup stability came about after Marte took over in center field, and right field was split between left-handed-hitting Joyce and right-handed-hitting Brinson. For the most part, Joyce has started against righties and Brinson gets the nod against southpaws. Brinson struggled in his first two seasons with the Marlins, but in a more defined role, he’s become a consistent contributor.

Defining season stretch: The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home for the Marlins just days into the regular season. The team dealt with being quarantined at its hotel in Philadelphia for eight days. The Marlins’ season resumed on Aug. 4, and they immediately swept a four-game series against the Orioles in Baltimore, then beat the Mets in the first of a three-game series to improve to 7-1. The club won five games in four days and demonstrated that it could overcome adversity.

Breakout player: On Aug. 22, Sánchez made his MLB debut. The rookie has since become a sensation. The Marlins haven't had this much excitement over a pitching prospect since the late José Fernández captured the imagination of the sport in 2013. A native of the Dominican Republic, Sánchez grew up admiring Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez -- he even has Martinez’s No. 45 tattooed on his neck. With his 100-mph fastball and elite secondary pitches, Sánchez has a chance to be an ace.

Calling card: The 2020 Marlins are built a bit in the image of the franchise's ‘03 World Series championship team. They rely on quality starting pitching backed by sure-handed defense. Mix in some timely hitting, and Miami has its formula for winning. Getting the rotation lined up took a month, due to being down three starters who needed time to recover from COVID-19. Sánchez and Rogers, two rookies, have provided energy and production. Alcantara has shown flashes that he can be a legitimate ace. Rojas is the leader of the defense, and Anderson is a quality third baseman. In center field, Marte is an upgrade in center over the experiment of going with Jonathan Villar, who was traded to Toronto.

Memorable moment: Mike Lowell and Cody Ross now have company in the Marlins’ record books. Anderson, in Game 1 of a seven-inning doubleheader on Sept. 18, tied the franchise record with three home runs in a game, joining Lowell (April 21, 2004 against the Phillies in Philadelphia) and Ross (Sept. 11, 2006 at home against the Mets). Anderson also is the first to go deep three times in a game at Marlins Park, which opened in ‘12.

Anderson’s seven RBIs against the Nationals that day also matched a team record, as he posted the fifth seven-RBI day in club history. Most recently, Adeiny Hechavarria did it in Philadelphia on May 13, 2013.