Marlins' young arms show gains in playoffs

Alcantara, López, Sánchez could form imposing trio for Miami in 2021

October 9th, 2020

The Marlins’ remarkable season came to a bittersweet end on Thursday afternoon in their 7-0 loss to the Braves in Game 3 the National League Division Series at Minute Maid Park. But what comes next could be even more exciting than their first postseason run since 2003.

The organization believes it has planted the seed of a winning culture in Miami, with veteran players mixed with a youth movement ready to take over. Nowhere is that more apparent than its young rotation.

Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López and Sixto Sánchez were the Marlins’ three starters this series, and they’re set up to front the rotation in 2021. Their mission? Unseat the Braves -- who will go on to play either the Dodgers or Padres in the NL Championship Series -- as NL East champs.

“When I first got to Spring Training, I felt like this team was very young,” reliever Brandon Kintzler said. “I feel like these guys got hungry. They matured really fast. What do they need to do to get to the next step? They just need to get better. Experience is the only thing that helps you get better up here. The window is just opening for this team. Hopefully, they take advantage of it.”

Alcantara was charged with five runs in six innings in Game 1 on Tuesday, but he showed the poise of a front-line starter as his start went on. López was stellar in Game 2, allowing two runs on just two solo home runs in five innings. The 24-year-old has been another bright spot in the organization this year, and he showed the playoff spotlight wouldn’t rattle him Wednesday.

Sánchez, the Marlins’ rookie sensation, showed flashes of what he’s capable of in Game 3. The Braves tagged the hard-throwing 22-year-old for four runs in the third inning, but he showed why the Marlins are so excited about him over the course of the shortened season.

“I learned that I can help the team,” Sánchez said through a Spanish interpreter. “That’s one of the things I saw in my two [postseason] starts. I know that I’ve got the tools to keep helping the team in the future.”

Sánchez threw five pitches, all strikes, in the first inning to retire the top of the Braves’ lineup. In the second, he loaded the bases with a single and two walks before getting Adam Duvall to strike out swinging on a 100-mph fastball for the first out. Corey Dickerson saved Sánchez with a catch that had a 15 percent catch probability in shallow left field for the second out, keeping Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud at third base. Sánchez got Austin Riley to roll a grounder into a forceout at second base to end the inning unscathed.

Trevor Rogers, who has a chance to win a rotation spot in 2021, got a taste of the postseason when he relieved Sánchez in the fourth inning and allowed three runs (two earned) in 1 2/3 innings. Both received valuable experience while also showing what they need to improve on for next year. All while not having played above Double-A before this season.

“They both came up to give us big games,” manager Don Mattingly said. “Both show you where they need to get better. So both of their processes are going to have to continue to improve -- their training, everything you have to do as a starting pitcher.

“Sandy and Pablo, you’ve seen the growth that they’ve been able to make. I think Sixto and Rogers, you see that they’re still a little young. They’ve got steps to take, as well as Sandy and Pablo continuing to grow, but those guys are still at another level than those other guys. Sixto and those others guys are going to have to take steps forward to improve.”

Miguel Rojas, the veteran and centerpiece of the 2020 Marlins, thought back to when he was recovering from COVID-19 and went to the Marlins' complex in Jupiter, Fla., to get some at-bats in against players like Sánchez and Rogers, then part of the Miami's player pool.

On Thursday, Rojas played behind them in the NLDS. That was all the confirmation he needed to know that the future is bright.

“That’s pretty special, and that experience that those guys got this year is going to be so important for this organization,” Rojas said. “It’s up to them now this offseason. Put the work in and show up to Spring Training even better than what they already are.”