Young Marlins cherish vets: 'Our game is fun'

October 6th, 2020

The Marlins are a youthful team growing up quickly, thrown into an unprecedented season and now the club’s first postseason since 2003. And while those young players are full of talent, they also can lean on the veteran players in the clubhouse -- who have shown they’re full of talent, too.

Miami’s front office approached 2020 with a mix of key veteran players and the top talent from the farm system, and the club has ridden that dynamic all the way to the National League Division Series, which kicks off Tuesday against the Braves at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

“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. It's always nice to have a club with a combination of veterans and younger players like what we have here.”

At the center of it is , the undisputed leader of the team and the glue that has kept the Marlins together. The 31-year-old shortstop is in his sixth year with Miami and had a .304/.392/.496 slash line (.888 OPS) with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 40 games this season.

The Marlins built their veteran core around Rojas, with acquisitions this season that have proved invaluable. was claimed off waivers from the Rays in December and has had a rebound year, posting an .809 OPS in 51 games as Miami's first baseman and designated hitter. The 30-year-old posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career (albeit in only 216 plate appearances), and his presence has helped in a year when the Marlins had 18 rookies make their debut and seven rookies on their Wild Card Series roster.

Eight-year veteran brought stability and a reliable bat in left field, hitting .258 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 52 games. On the pitching side, reliever signed a one-year deal in December and has emerged as the Marlins’ setup man, posting a 0.60 ERA in the regular season with a 0.93 WHIP. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Cubs in the Wild Card Series before handing it over to , who earned the closer job before Opening Day and never looked back. The 36-year-old had a 2.22 ERA with 12 saves out of 14 opportunities and pitched two scoreless innings in the Wild Card Series. is another veteran reliever who has made an impact this year.

The acquisitions the Marlins brought in had something to prove, and that’s what Rojas thinks has been crucial this year to get the Marlins this far.

“The organization did a great job in the offseason, acquiring guys with experience, but not just with anybody,” Rojas said. “Guys in the middle of their career, trying to prove something and still make a name for himself. … I think from top to the bottom, everybody’s on the same page, which is winning baseball games, winning series and having the opportunity to be on a stage like this.”

To understand the impact the veterans have, it might be best to look to one who isn’t with the team anymore: catcher , who announced his retirement on Sunday after missing the final month of the season with a concussion. Cervelli, 34, signed with the Marlins in December and hit .245 with three homers and seven RBIs. His impact extended beyond the playing field as a leader and mentor. He was one of the first people Mattingly mentioned when listing out the veteran leadership on his team.

Rojas mentioned a message from Cervelli in the Marlins’ group chat -- which the team started at the beginning of the year to welcome the new players -- in a team meeting Monday before the Marlins’ workout at Minute Maid Park.

“He sent a message in that group chat a couple days ago, saying that our game is different than everybody else’s game,” Rojas said. “Our game is fun, and that’s what we did after we came back from quarantine. … That’s something that I reminded the guys today, and that’s something that Francisco Cervelli always said. Our game is not the same as everybody else. Our game is different. We play our game, like he said, like the Little League World Series. We’re going to keep it that way.”

That, at its core, is what the veterans have done this year. They’ve provided an impact in the lineup and on the pitching staff while encouraging their younger teammates to play their game. It’s what has driven the success and what the club hopes continues in the NLDS.

“They just let us be ourselves,” rookie outfielder said. “We’ve got a lot of different characters and types of people in the clubhouse, but it’s definitely a fun time, I’ll tell you that. They definitely embrace us. They just tell us to go out and play baseball. We’re experiencing something that this organization hasn’t experienced in a long time. We don't try to put pressure on ourselves, we just try to play baseball.”