Any questions that the playoff stage might be too big for the youthful Marlins were put to rest after they swept their best-of-three National League Wild Card Series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Now, the Marlins must deal with another issue: Can they overtake the franchise that has set the standard in the National League East the past three seasons?
The Braves powered their way to the East title, winning the division by four games over the Marlins, who finished second. The division rivals open their best-of-five NL Division Series on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
In head-to-head competition, Atlanta won six of 10 meetings, and the clubs certainly know each other well.
Here’s a look at what we learned about the Marlins during their Wild Card Series:
Sánchez threw 89 pitches on Friday in Miami’s 2-0 win in Game 2, with 66 four-seam fastballs. His four-seam average was 98.3 mph, and he had seven pitches top 100 mph.
In a 5-1 win in Game 1, Alcantara logged 100 pitches, with 77 being either four-seam fastballs or sinkers. His four-seamer averaged 96.8 mph, and his sinker 95.9.
The Braves have a more high-powered offense, and they handle the heat a bit better. Their batting average against 95 mph and above is .260, with a .453 slugging percentage.
2. Sierra in center?
Starling Marte’s small fracture to his fifth left metacarpal creates uncertainty over who will play center field. The Marlins aren’t ruling out Marte being available in some capacity in the Division Series. The fact he has a few extra days to recover increases his chances of seeing action. But will he be able to hit without any discomfort? He’s being fitted with a splint. Until he’s ready to play, the Marlins likely will platoon with left-handed-hitting Magneuris Sierra and right-handed-hitting Lewis Brinson or Monte Harrison. Sierra came up big with an RBI single in the seventh inning Friday. If lefty Max Fried goes for Atlanta in Game 1, then it might be Harrison in center and Brinson in right field.
3. Bullpen roles being revised
Brandon Kintzler and Yimi García have established themselves as the main closer and eighth-inning setup options. If Kintzler isn’t available to close, García is the likely second option. Both pitched in both games against the Cubs. A role that may have adjusted from the regular season is Brad Boxberger, who turned in an effective 1 1/3 innings of relief on Friday. Boxberger handled the sixth inning, and one out in the seventh. Lefty Richard Bleier also was used in both games, and the veteran has shown he can pitch anywhere from the sixth to the ninth innings. Right-hander James Hoyt, who didn’t pitch in the Wild Card Series should be plenty rested for perhaps a heavy workload in what could be five games in five days.