Marlins finally back up Alcantara's playoff prediction

October 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola’s Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Every Spring Training, Marlins ace  shows up to camp and tells fans that the ballclub will surprise a lot of people. Outside of the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, which snapped a 17-year playoff drought, Miami hadn't been able to back up his claim.

So when teammate Tanner Scott struck out Endy Rodríguez to close out the Marlins' postseason-clinching victory over the Pirates on Saturday night at PNC Park, the wait was finally over for Alcantara.

"This year we did it," Alcantara said. "We've got to keep doing what we're doing, and we need to have that support."

Alcantara, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner who has been out since Sept. 3 with a right UCL sprain, is a big reason why first-time manager Skip Schumaker has been able to create a winning culture so quickly. In order to do so, Schumaker and his staff knew they needed immediate buy-in from the players, in particular clubhouse leaders Alcantara, Jorge Soler and Luis Arraez.

FanGraphs gave the Marlins just a 23.6% chance to make the postseason entering Opening Day, but there were believers in the baseball world -- and not just within their own organization. Principal owner Bruce Sherman remembers Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner telling him during the first week of the season that Miami would be in the postseason. Sherman asked Lerner whether he had seen the club's Spring Training record.

That's because the results didn't happen overnight. Miami went an MLB-worst 7-16 in Grapefruit League play and dropped four of five to begin the regular season. But the Marlins outgrew their early growing pains to win 14 more games than last season, with the possibility of adding two more victories before the NL Wild Card Series begins on Tuesday.

"They were sick of losing, and they knew that there was enough talent in there to win," Schumaker said. "And that's what I think was the most frustrating. I didn't come into a team that was super young and still in a development stage. I came into a team that was ready to win. And I really did feel that. I felt like that when I was interviewing for the job and looking at the roster. And these guys were eager to turn the page. A lot of learning lessons for me, probably a lot of learning lessons for those guys in there, but we ended up trusting each other and loving each other, and that's why we're here."

Alcantara can't contribute on the mound this postseason, but he can still be a positive presence in both the clubhouse and dugout. The first time Alcantara had a chance to celebrate a playoff berth, it was far more subdued because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years later, he made sure to find Schumaker so the team could douse the first-year manager in beer and champagne.

"It's pretty special for Sandy to come in and get the cart and put me in there, because he means so much to this team, this organization," Schumaker said. "I know he wants to be in that playoff hunt so bad and start Game 1. But for him to still celebrate like that shows you who he is."