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Playoff chase feels like reality for Marlins

@JoeFrisaro
July 25, 2020

From the front office to the coaching staff on down to the players, the Marlins enter Opening Day on Friday confident they will be a surprising contender in the playoff chase. Their chances of pulling that off improved on Thursday when MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed to increase

From the front office to the coaching staff on down to the players, the Marlins enter Opening Day on Friday confident they will be a surprising contender in the playoff chase.

Their chances of pulling that off improved on Thursday when MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed to increase the total number of playoff teams from 10 to 16.

In a season with so much unpredictability, the Marlins believe they have the type of starting pitching, and overall pitching depth, to make the leap from finishing 57-105 in 2019 to fighting for a postseason spot.

With the season shortened to 60 games, any club that gets hot at the right time has the chance to be playing into October. The Marlins got off to a good start, winning their season opener behind a strong effort from Sandy Alcantara.

“I think on the whole, it will be exciting for our industry,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “Nothing has really changed on our end. From Day 1, we talk about how we prepare, and what we prepare for, and we all know that this is a 60-game sprint.

“We like where we’re at with our starting pitching, and the depth that we’ve been able to build and create. We’re excited with the thought that we are competing for a playoff spot.”

However the season plays out, Miami’s core of young players and high-end prospects will gain valuable experience playing in high-leverage games from Day One.

“From our standpoint, and our guys, it’s a great experience for them that just knowing in a shortened season that every pitch counts, that every at-bat counts,” Hill said. “You’re truly playing for something that is attainable.

“For the Marlins, nothing changes with our focus and what our preparation will be on a daily basis -- that’s to win a game every time we show up to a ballpark.”

Marlins-Phillies stand together as one

As part of Friday's pregame ceremony, all players on the Marlins and Phillies stood as one behind the message of equality for all.

With players socially distanced behind home plate and down the first- and third- base lines, they collectively held a black ribbon while a video message from The Players Alliance delivered a statement of equality.

As an organization, the Marlins have openly discussed the issue of racial inequality and the need for social justice reforms.

Chief executive officer Derek Jeter said a few weeks ago that the Marlins are encouraging their players to use their platforms on issues that are important to them.

Four prospects debuting in ‘pen

After defeating the Braves, 6-2, on Wednesday in an exhibition at Truist Park in Atlanta, Marlins’ management informed players as to whether they would be on the Opening Day roster or start off at their alternate training site in Jupiter, Fla.

When the roster was completed, four relievers who had never been on a big league roster before were selected. All four are on MLB Pipeline’s Marlins’ Top 30 list -- Nick Neidert (No. 10), Jordan Holloway (No. 20), Alex Vesia (No. 27) and Sterling Sharp (No. 28).

“We were all in the same locker area, in this half-locker area, and there were a couple of guys in there,” said Vesia, the lone left-hander of the group. “And kind of, one after one, it was like, ‘Did you get good news?’ All of a sudden, it was all of us in there, and we were like, ‘Wow. We did it.’ It was cool.”

Of the four, Neidert has thrown the most career Minor League innings with 460 2/3, followed by Sharp (378 1/3), Holloway (304 1/3) and Vesia (100).

As recently as two weeks ago, Holloway was thinking he had no chance of being on the Marlins’ Opening Day roster, and Neidert was in the mix for the fifth starter spot.

Of the four, Sharp, a Rule 5 claim from the Nationals last December, was the only one of the group considered the closest to being a lock to make the club entering Summer Camp.

“Did I think I was going to be on the Opening Day roster?” Holloway said. “Absolutely not. But here we are sitting here.”

Neidert noted that as Summer Camp progressed, Elieser Hernandez began to pull away in the battle for the fifth spot.

“They told me, ‘We don’t have a spot for you as a starter, but we’d love for you to be in the big leagues. Welcome to the big leagues,’” Neidert said. “I was like, ‘Any opportunity for me to be in the big leagues, I’ll take it!’”

Fourth-rounder reaches agreement

The Marlins came to financial terms with their fourth-round pick, left-hander Jake Eder from Vanderbilt University. A native of South Florida, Eder will sign for $700,000, above slot for the 104th pick, which has a value of $560,000. With Eder locked up, the Marlins have all six of their 2020 Draft picks under contract.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.