Taking care of business and clinching a playoff spot on Friday put the Marlins in an ideal position to set their rotation for the upcoming Wild Card Series.
“The best thing about being able to clinch the other night is that we can look ahead,” manager Don Mattingly said on Sunday. “The fact of the matter is all of our guys could be lined up.”
The best-of-three series begins on Wednesday, with the opponent yet to be determined. Entering Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Marlins were the sixth seed in the National League. For now, they’re lined up to face the No. 3 seed Cubs at Wrigley Field.
But that could change, and Miami may jump up to the No. 5 seed. In that scenario, they would face the Padres, seeded fourth, in San Diego.
The Marlins secured second place in the National League East on Friday with a 4-3 win in 10 innings against the Yankees. In the eight-team format, the first- and second-place teams in each division qualify, as do two Wild Card selections.
Alcantara (3-2, 3.00 ERA) pitched on Friday, which means he would be on regular rest to start Wednesday. López (6-4, 3.61 ERA) last went on Thursday at Atlanta, and Sánchez (3-2, 3.46 ERA) is the most rested, pitching three innings this past Wednesday.
Rookie left-hander Trevor Rogers, who threw three innings against the Yankees on Saturday, will be a bullpen option in the first round. So is José Ureña.
“We can pick any guy and feel good about it, and which way we’ll go,” Mattingly said. “We’ve talked about extra rest -- to give Sandy extra rest. He’s been our ace, for sure. But do we want to give him the extra day?”
If the Marlins go that way, López is the more established choice to start Game 1. Sánchez is the other option, but he’s made just seven big league starts. Would he be the right pick to take the ball in a best-of-three series in Game 1?
If he does, and the Marlins falter, they still could go with Alcantara or López to extend the season in Game 2, and have the other for a possible decisive Game 3.
If the Marlins go with López in Game 1, and the team wins, that allows it to line up Alcantara in a winner-take-all Game 3. Sánchez could then be the Game 2 choice, with Rogers ready in the bullpen if he struggles.
These are the types of discussions the Marlins are having in preparation for the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2003.
“We’re set up to do whatever we want,” Mattingly said. “We are actually in a pretty good position to set our guys up.”
Days after assuming ownership of the Marlins following the 2017 season, chief executive officer Derek Jeter announced the organization intended to build from the ground up.
There was plenty of backlash when the Marlins traded away top players like Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Strange-Gordon. A year later, J.T. Realmuto also was dealt.
As the organization struggled through back-to-back last-place finishes, including a 57-105 record in 2019, the farm system was being reloaded with talent. The players there also were introduced to a culture change.
President of baseball operations Michael Hill, meanwhile, spearheaded numerous trades.
On the 2020 closing day roster, 16 players were parts of trades since 2017.
Gary Denbo, vice president of player development and scouting, oversaw the development of the farm system, which has become one of the best in the game.
Changing public perception continues to be a process.
“There were a lot of changes, and then you got a lot of typical ‘Marlins shaking [things] up and unloading the whole organization-type talk,'" Mattingly said. “That’s where Derek and ownership stuck to their guns. That groundswell of building the organization from the ground up.”
Denbo established offseason “Captain’s Camps,” where top prospects take part in on-field and classroom instructional sessions focusing on being leaders, as well as better teammates and better ballplayers.
“There’s a lot of things that go on at those camps ... besides just baseball,” Mattingly said. “And then bringing in the right players. You have to get rid of players that don’t want to be here, that don’t have the right attitude. You can’t have that in losing situations. You’ve got to have winning personalities, even if you’re not winning.”
Mattingly added that ultimately, the team needed to start winning.
“And then at the end of the day, you have to win,” Mattingly said. “You can do all those things, and if you’re winning 50 games, it’s not going to go very far. Eventually, you have got to start putting wins on the board, and turn the corner. That’s one of the things we talked about this year, ‘It’s time.'"