MIAMI -- Why not the Marlins?
From chief executive officer Derek Jeter to president of baseball operations Michael Hill to manager Don Mattingly and the players, the Marlins have made their battle cry for 2020: “Why not us?”
Mattingly has said that over 162 games, the best and deepest teams are most likely to reach the playoffs. In the eyes of the Marlins, in an abbreviated 60-game slate, anything is possible.
“The 'Why not us?' is, 'Why not us getting hot right away?'” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “Like in Spring Training. In Spring Training, we went [12-7] and we won a lot of games in a row.”
The Marlins base their confidence on a blossoming pitching staff filled with power arms and a revamped lineup that includes three proven veteran additions.
Still, to make the leap from last place in the National League in 2019 (57-105) to reaching the playoffs will require many things to fall into place.
Here is what to expect from the Marlins in this unprecedented season.
What needs to go right?
The Marlins' young core and waves of prospects will have to come of age quickly to make the season special. In Year 3 of the club's building process, there are many players who are entering their prime. The list includes third baseman Brian Anderson, catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitchers Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López and Caleb Smith. Behind them are prospects who are getting closer to being big league ready. Right-handers Sixto Sánchez, Edward Cabrera and Jordan Holloway are all on the 40-man roster, and they throw 100 mph. During the three-month shutdown, the pitchers stayed on a steady throwing routine. It’s been evident in intrasquad games, and it may give Miami an edge this season.
After splitting time at third base and right field last year, Anderson is settling in at third. The organization made that clear since Spring Training, where he played exclusively at the hot corner. At age 27, Anderson is one of the faces of the franchise. He should benefit by being part of a deeper lineup. But still there are some questions, mainly because he is returning from a broken bone in his left hand. Anderson was plunked by a pitch against the Phillies last Aug. 23, and he missed the rest of the season. He was hitting .342 with a .618 slugging percentage in August before the injury. Now wearing a protective guard on his left hand, Anderson looks to get up to speed after not playing in a regular-season game in 11 months.
Prospect to watch
From Day 1 of Summer Camp, Monte Harrison has seized the opportunity to become a significant part of 2020. Harrison, the Marlins' No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, continues to show improvements at the plate. Making more consistent contact has been a work in progress. His strikeout rate dropped to 29.9 percent (56 games at Triple-A New Orleans) in '19 after it was 36.9 percent in 136 games at Double-A Jacksonville in '18.
“I love the energy that he plays with,” Mattingly said. “He’s a guy that you look forward to cracking in here, breaking the door down and basically showing us what he can do. I think the fans of South Florida are going to love this guy.”
On the schedule
Miami’s opponents are projected to record a .521 win percentage in 2020, according to FanGraphs' strength of schedule calculation. That makes the Marlins' schedule the hardest of the 30 MLB clubs. Still, in 60 games, anything can happen. If they are playing meaningful games in September, their final homestand is 10 games (Sept. 10-20) against the Phillies, Red Sox and Nationals. Should the Miami still be in the race, it closes out the regular season with seven road games -- Sept. 21-24 against the Braves in Atlanta and Sept. 25-27 against the Yankees in New York.
Team MVP will be ...
Jonathan Villar. The 29-year-old is expected to start off in center field, but he also could play middle infield and be used as a designated hitter. A year away from free agency, Villar is the catalyst of the offense. He looks to build on his huge season with the Orioles in 2019, when he hit 24 home runs, stole 40 bases and scored 111 runs.
Team Cy Young will be ...
Pablo López is primed to take the next step. The 24-year-old stayed focused through the three-month shutdown, continuing with his throwing program. It showed in Summer Camp, and he was arguably the best starter in the three weeks leading up to Opening Day. For López, it has not been a question about his talent -- it has been a matter of staying healthy. He has dealt with right shoulder issues in each of his first two big league seasons. The Marlins feel López is just scratching the surface of what he can become. In a short season, he has a chance to become a major factor in 2020.
The Marlins haven’t had a winning season since 2009. Now with a 60-game season, they can realistically snap that streak. In a short sprint, a couple of hot streaks can change the course of the season. Since Spring Training, there has been a chip on this team's shoulder, as it is trying to prove people wrong. The playoffs, naturally, is the goal. Winning at least 31 games wouldn’t be far-fetched.