Marlins' clincher capped 'an awesome run' to postseason

October 1st, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Manager Skip Schumaker had one rule for the Marlins’ champagne celebration following Saturday night’s 7-3 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park to clinch the organization’s first full-season postseason berth in 20 years: no goggles.

“I want them to remember what that burn feels like,” Schumaker said. “That means you've done something really good in this game. And for them to be able to do that with their friends, guys that they have grown to love, and they've grown to love each other, they'll remember that forever.”

• Path to the postseason: The Marlins have officially clinched an NL Wild Card spot. The second NL Wild Card spot is still in play for Miami (84-76), which is a half-game ahead of Arizona (84-77). The Marlins would clinch the fifth seed with a win either Sunday or Monday (suspended game vs. the Mets) or a D-backs loss to the Astros on Sunday. Miami holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona, having taken four of six in the season series. Here’s a look at the playoff scenarios, explained.

Ten months ago, Schumaker won over the Marlins’ brass for the managerial job despite no prior experience. A two-time World Series champion with the Cardinals, he stated his intention to build a winning culture with the Marlins during his introductory press conference.

No one could have foreseen just how quickly that would happen.

Since 2004, the season after the Florida Marlins captured their second World Series title, the Marlins have compiled the fourth-worst record in Major League Baseball. Entering ‘23, they were expected to finish fourth in a division with the 101-win Braves, 101-win Mets and the National League pennant-winning Phillies.

But the underdog Marlins defied the odds on Saturday, as Jazz Chisholm Jr. homered and drove in two and Trade Deadline acquisition Josh Bell collected three RBIs, including a two-run double in the eighth. Eight pitchers contributed in a bullpen game.

“It just felt like we're going to the playoffs in the eighth, that's all I know,” said Chisholm, who was on the 2020 club that reached the postseason in the pandemic-shortened season. “Before the game, we called it ‘Clinch Day,’ and we weren't expecting any other day to be ‘Clinch Day’ except today.

“And that's what we did, and we handled business today.”

So how did Miami go from a 93-loss club in 2022 to postseason-bound? One word: Resiliency.

The Marlins entered the All-Star break 14 games above .500 before opening the second half with a season-high eight-game skid. It seemed as though their postseason hopes were over when they dropped below .500 (66-67) on Aug. 30, but they have gone 18-9 since with series wins over the postseason-bound Dodgers, Phillies, Brewers and Braves.

In doing so, Miami has become the first club since the 2009 Minnesota Twins to sit below .500 133 games or later into a season and make the postseason in a 162-game slate.

“The guys persevered the entire year,” principal owner Bruce Sherman said. “The coaching staff was all new. I’ve known Skip less than a year. The moment he walked in, after an hour, I knew he was going to be the manager. We saw a couple of candidates. He was great.

“He says, ‘I have certain unconditional aspects of how I manage,’ and boy, he managed that way. You saw him manage each game one at a time, and the motivation he got from these guys. Unbelievable.”

The Marlins certainly don’t outslug clubs, even after general manager Kim Ng added Bell and Jake Burger at the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline. They have recorded comeback wins in 48.8% of their victories and reversed their one-run fortune -- from an MLB-worst 41 losses in 2022 to an MLB-best win percentage (.717) in ‘23. Miami also has the worst run differential for a postseason team in AL/NL history.

“I'm on a cloud,” said Bell, who has 11 homers and an .818 OPS as a Marlin. “I couldn't be more proud of the guys, couldn't be happier to have this opportunity to play for this team. We had such an awesome run for us to close it out here, [to] be able to celebrate tonight. Definitely special.”

The Marlins’ winning formula comes down to their pitching, and they have delivered in the stretch run without 2022 NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara (right UCL sprain) and standout rookie Eury Pérez (left SI joint inflammation).

The postseason clincher came in a bullpen game because of those injuries and Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Mets. Six of the eight relievers were brought in from other organizations since 2021, highlighting savvy moves to one of the club’s strengths.

“This is an amazing moment,” Ng said. “These guys deserve all the fun that they are having right now. But there's more work to do, and I think they know that. This team has exemplified heart and resilience and grittiness -- from the comeback wins, to the one-run wins, to the two runs that we needed in the ninth in New York, to the four runs that we needed in the eighth yesterday.

“They finally gave us a little margin today, because I think they smelt it. But this team has just exemplified heart, and they know it, and I think that is the driver of this group.”