The last time the Marlins were in the postseason, they beat the Cubs in a famous (or infamous) National League Championship Series, on their way to the 2003 World Series title.
A lot has changed since then. The Marlins endured a 16-season playoff drought. The Cubs finally exorcised their demons in 2016, winning the franchise’s first Fall Classic since 1908.
Now these two clubs meet again, in the 2020 NL Wild Card Series. The best-of-three contest begins Wednesday at 2 p.m ET/ 1 p.m. CT on ABC, with all three games set to take place at Wrigley Field. The third-seeded Cubs (34-26) won the NL Central under first-year manager David Ross -- a member of that 2016 championship club -- while the sixth-seeded Marlins (31-29) overcame a number of obstacles to claim the NL East’s second automatic berth.
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of their matchup.
The Cubs have a stellar duo here. Willson Contreras has a rocket for an arm and big power in his bat, and he has been raking in September. Victor Caratini hasn’t hit much this year, but he's been behind the plate for every Yu Darvish start -- to great effect -- and has been one of the game’s top pitch framers. Miami’s Jorge Alfaro ranks at the bottom in that category and has struggled to get on base.
Nobody can question Anthony Rizzo’s career accomplishments, but it hasn’t been a standout season for the three-time All-Star, whose .755 OPS includes a quiet September. Jesús Aguilar, on the other hand, has been a huge addition for Miami, posting a .277/.352/.457 slash line with 34 RBIs.
Slight advantage: Marlins
Jason Kipnis was a solid offseason pickup for the Cubs, posting his best offensive season since 2016, and he has postseason experience. Jon Berti has been an on-base machine for the Marlins (.388 OBP) -- especially of late -- and his elite sprint speed and status as a stolen base threat give him the edge here.
Going strictly by 2020 results would be a plus for the Marlins, with Miguel Rojas posting a career-best .888 OPS, albeit in only 40 games. Nobody can doubt Rojas’ importance to Miami, but while it’s been a trying season for Javier Báez, he remains a game-changing player at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Numbers aside, that can’t be ignored here.
Slight advantage: Cubs
As with Báez, there’s an issue of track record vs. 2020 results with Kris Bryant. His right oblique issue was more of a concern before he homered in back-to-back games to end the regular season, but even so, it’s not clear exactly what Chicago can expect from Bryant, who posted a .644 OPS this year. Meanwhile, Brian Anderson (.810 OPS) has been a very consistent performer the last few years and led Miami in homers (11) and RBIs (38).
Slight advantage: Marlins
Both Miami’s Corey Dickerson and Chicago’s Kyle Schwarber have solid hitting histories but have been below league average at the plate this season by OPS+. Schwarber’s struggles have been especially acute of late, but his big-time power (105 homers since 2017) is always lurking.
Ian Happ has been a driving force behind the Cubs’ offense, spending much of the season with an OPS over 1.000. But it’s been a strikeout-heavy struggle for Happ over the past few weeks, and while Starling Marte hasn’t exactly been hot at the plate since arriving in Miami, his strong all-around skills mean he can significantly impact the game even if he’s not hitting (assuming he’s OK after sustaining a left ear contusion when he was hit by a pitch Sunday).
Slight advantage: Marlins
Matt Joyce, the strong side of a Miami platoon with Lewis Brinson, is a solid veteran. But Jason Heyward, after scuffling at the plate for much of his Chicago tenure, has been a key piece of the lineup in 2020, with a .392 OBP and .456 slugging percentage.
The Cubs often use Contreras or Caratini at DH when they aren’t catching, with Contreras doing much of his damage in that role (.992 OPS). Miami is likely to lean on Garrett Cooper, who had an .853 OPS and six homers in 34 games.
As exciting as Marlins rookie Sixto Sánchez is, he allowed nine earned runs over seven innings in his last two starts, with six walks and only four strikeouts. That’s a concerning sign for a Miami rotation which may go with Sandy Alcantara in Game 1. The Cubs have the potential NL Cy Young Award winner in Darvish, plus another pitcher who may receive votes in Kyle Hendricks. Jon Lester doesn’t have great numbers this season, but he has a long and successful track record (2.51 ERA in 154 innings pitched) in the postseason
Despite a few strong individual seasons, including from closer Brandon Kintzler, Marlins relievers had the fifth-highest ERA (5.50) in the Majors. The club also lost a potential postseason bullpen contributor when right-hander José Ureña sustained a season-ending injury Sunday. The biggest question facing the Cubs is whether Craig Kimbrel can be the difference maker he’s been for much of his career. The veteran finished with only two saves, but after a rough start to 2020, he was almost unhittable over his final 14 outings, striking out 26 in that time.