'20 done for Marlins, but club 'proud' of run

October 9th, 2020

Against all odds, the Marlins became one of MLB’s best stories in an unprecedented 60-game regular season. Their tale was a true underdog story, beginning just after Opening Day, when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19.

Given little chance to finish above last place in the challenging National League East, the Marlins embraced a “bottom feeders” battle cry, and they shocked the sports world by advancing to the NL Division Series. Unfortunately for the franchise, that’s where its journey came to a screeching halt.

The Braves, the perennial NL East powerhouse, delivered a statement on Thursday afternoon that they are still the class of the division. Behind Kyle Wright’s six shutout innings and Travis d’Arnaud’s two-run double in a four-run third inning, Atlanta rolled past Miami, 7-0, in Game 3 of the NLDS at Minute Maid Park.

“Our message to our guys was pretty simple,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “We talked about it when we went to [Spring Training]. We talked about [how] it’s time. It’s time to take the next step forward as an organization.”

The Marlins indeed advanced their building process after back-to-back last-place finishes, including going 57-105 in 2019.

Entering this 60-game season, Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill asked the team, "Why not us?"

“We know it’s not where we [wanted] to go,” Mattingly said. “We did give ourselves an opportunity this year. I think that’s a step forward for us. We didn’t get to where we wanted to go, but how proud I was of this club, I talked about that.”

The Braves completed the three-game sweep in convincing style, and they handed the Marlins their first playoff series loss. Miami had been 7-0 in postseason sets, counting World Series titles in 1997 and 2003 and an NL Wild Card Series sweep of the Cubs this season.

The Marlins were held without a run in two consecutive games, and they finished their season on a streak of 19 straight scoreless innings.

“This was the only game that was out of hand, from the beginning,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “To be honest with you, we’ve closed the gap a lot. Not just because of what we did last year. The way that we played them this year, not just in Miami but in Atlanta, too. Remember, we just played [three] games in Miami and [seven] games in Atlanta. Playing away from home against the Braves is tough.”

For perspective, last year, the Marlins last year finished 40 games behind the Braves, and they were 4-15 in head-to-head matchups. Against the NL East, Miami went 24-52.

In this abbreviated 60-game season, Miami was 31-29 overall, 4-6 against Atlanta and 21-19 in division play.

“I think we’re closer,” Rojas said of being on equal footing with the Braves. “But we know they’re not going anywhere. They’re a good team. I’m pretty positive that the guys that gained the opportunity and gained the experience this year, especially in the postseason. It was pretty important for us moving forward.”

Facing elimination in the best-of-five series, the Marlins turned to rookie , hoping to extend their season and play at least a fourth NLDS game. The 22-year-old endured some more growing pains.

With the Marlins serving as the home team, Sánchez started things off right, retiring the Braves in order in the first on five pitches. In the second inning, things got dicey after d’Arnaud led off the frame with a broken-bat single. Back-to-back walks by Sánchez loaded the bases with no outs, and Atlanta threatened to blow things open early.

Sánchez then struck out Adam Duvall on a 100.3 mph fastball. That was the rookie’s second-highest velocity on a strikeout this season, and the seventh fastest tracked by a starting pitcher in the postseason since pitch tracking started in 2008.

Sánchez’s defense picked him up when left fielder made a sensational diving catch on Nick Markakis’ line drive for the second out of the frame. According to Statcast, the exit velocity was 104 mph and the expected batting average was .880. After Austin Riley grounded into a forceout, Sánchez was through two scoreless innings.

“On that play, just leave it out on the field today,” Dickerson said. “Try to compete. I had to repay Markakis back for getting me yesterday.”

Dickerson was referring to being thrown out at second base in the eighth inning Wednesday on Jon Berti’s blooper, which fell in front of Markakis in right field.

Sánchez wasn’t as fortunate in the third inning, though. A leadoff walk to Ronald Acuña Jr. set in motion a four-run Atlanta frame. In three innings, Sánchez was charged with four runs on four hits with three walks and two strikeouts.

“It was the walks,” Sánchez said. “Walks got me in trouble. I wasn’t able to execute my pitches, and they took advantage of that.”

Rookie Trevor Rogers, a candidate to start a potential fourth game, threw 1 2/3 innings of relief, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits and one walk.

The way the season finished wasn’t how the Marlins envisioned their magical run ending. But it also doesn’t take away from how far the organization advanced in one year.

The Marlins qualified for the playoffs as the sixth seed, finishing second in the NL East, just four games behind the Braves. But as they learned, the postseason presents a different level of challenges.

“You saw those guys, their lineup late,” Marlins veteran closer Brandon Kintzler said. “Even after the sixth inning, they put together great at-bats. Their pitching is always in attack mode. Their bullpen was in attack mode. They never gave us a break.”