Here's why Marlins are baseball's best story

September 26th, 2020

The Marlins are the team that comes along every decade or so that makes you fall in love with sports all over again. They could be a future reference point for every team going through tough times and riddled with injuries. For every team that should have been brought to its knees long before Miami clinched an improbable postseason berth -- the franchise’s first in 17 years (and first winning season since 2009) -- on a 4-3 extra-innings win over the Yankees on Friday night at Yankee Stadium.

Sixty-one players had a role in this Miami miracle, including 18 who made their Major League debuts. Twelve of those first-timers were pitchers.

Some numbers:
• 37 pitchers
• 13 starting pitchers
• 28 relievers
• 21 rookies (15 pitchers)
• 51 of 58 games started by pitchers age 25 and younger

And some facts:
• The Marlins have scored 46.5 percent of their runs with two outs, MLB’s highest percentage (118 of 254)
• They’ve stolen home three times this season. Baseball’s other 29 teams have done it a total of once.
• They packed for a five-night trip at the start of the season. That trip ended up lasting 23 nights.

Into baseball’s craziest season comes an improbable postseason team. Here are five reasons the 2020 Marlins are baseball’s best story:

1) Manager Don Mattingly
Mattingly's steadiness has been contagious, as he emphasized mental toughness, togetherness and focusing on one day at a time. At the beginning of the restart, Mattingly sometimes met his pitchers for the first time when they jogged in from the bullpen in the middle of an inning.

Mattingly has made it work by being, well, himself. That is to say, one of the most decent, likable and respected men to wear a Major League uniform. Those qualities go a long way in a season like this. Even when he’s delivering a tough message, players know he has their best interests at heart. He’s also that guy that players want to please.

2) Resilience
Resilience is a byproduct of youth, right? On Tuesday, the Marlins lost by double-digit runs for the fourth time this month. They followed two of the previous three lopsided losses -- including a 29-9 defeat in Atlanta on Sept. 9 -- with victories. Their 11 one-run victories are tied for most in the National League.

Of the original 30-man roster, 18 players tested positive for coronavirus early in the season and a 19th opted out. The Marlins had played three games when their season was put on hold for eight days.

Among the positive tests were the top three starting pitchers (Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith and José Ureña), eight of 12 relievers, plus the starting catcher (Jorge Alfaro), second baseman (Isan Díaz, who opted out), shortstop (Miguel Rojas), right fielder (Harold Ramirez) and designated hitter (Garrett Cooper). The Marlins were already a consensus pick to finish last in the NL East.

3) General manager Michael Hill
As the Marlins were quarantined for eight days in Philadelphia, Hill filled 19 spots on his roster. He acquired eight players from outside the organization and promoted 11 others. Nevertheless, Miami returned on Aug. 4 and promptly won five in a row and seven of 10.

The Marlins have made 167 roster moves since Opening Day. Only five players have been on the active roster the entire season (Jesús Aguilar, Brian Anderson, Pablo López, Brad Boxberger and Brandon Kintzler).

Among Hill’s acquisitions:
• Right-hander James Hoyt, 33, became a key member of the bullpen after being designated for assignment by the Indians.
• Righty Brett Eibner, played 87 games as an outfielder with the Royals, A’s and Dodgers and was signed off the Eastern Reyes del Tigre of the four-team Constellation Energy League in Texas.
• Left-hander Brandon Leibrandt, son of Charlie, was released by the Phillies on June 2. He was pitching for the New Jersey Blasters and signed despite the Marlins never having laid eyes upon him. Less than three weeks after signing, he made his big league debut with four shutout innings against the Nationals on Aug. 23.

4) Rojas
Managers and coaches can do and say only so much. Plenty of leadership has to come from inside the clubhouse. That’s why the 31-year-old shortstop has been so important. He learned about leadership from watching his buddy, Martín Prado, who retired after last season.

The Marlins are now his team. He’s hitting .308, leads with his work ethic and voice and has earned the respect of every player. He’s also Miami’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee for his community work.

When the Marlins announced extensions for both Mattingly and Rojas late last season, Mattingly choked up when discussing how proud he was of Rojas.

(In terms of leadership, Hill’s acquisitions of catcher Francisco Cervelli, sidelined by a concussion, and Aguilar have been important factors in creating the right environment.)

5) Sixtomania
At age 22, right-hander Sixto Sánchez has the look of a once and future ace. Acquired in the J.T. Realmuto trade with the Phillies, Sánchez went 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA in his first five starts with a fastball that touches 100 mph and might be his third-best pitch. He has a touch of swagger to go along with all that stuff.

Sánchez grew up in the Dominican Republic idolizing Pedro Martinez, and he has No. 45 tattoo on his neck and also stitched onto his glove. In an MLB Network interview, Pedro called him “a mini-me with better stuff.”