5 things to know about Cubs' Wild Card opponent

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“They’ve got some really young arms,” Ross said of the Marlins Sunday, “they’ve got electric stuff.”

Marlins manager Don Mattingly has not yet announced the order of his starting pitching rotation for the Wild Card Series, but the Cubs can bet on seeing Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.00 ERA), Pablo López (6-4, 3.61) and/or Sixto Sanchez (3-2, 3.46) this week.

The Marlins’ rotation has been a strength all year, despite a rash of injuries and the effects of their early COVID-19 outbreak. The latest blow was a line-drive comebacker that broke José Ureña’s right forearm, ending his postseason hopes. Ureña’s injury will have a larger impact if the Marlins get past the Cubs in the first round.

Their top three starters range in experience from 2019 All-Star Alcantara to rookie Sanchez. But what Sanchez lacks in MLB exposure, he makes up for with a dynamic arsenal. The 22-year-old threw a seven-inning complete game two weeks ago, the fifth game of his MLB career.

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A familiar name anchors the Marlins’ bullpen: Brandon “Salt” Kintzler. The Miami closer has built to two of his best seasons the last two years, 2019 with the Cubs and 2020 with the Marlins.

The Cubs used Kintzler as a high-leverage reliver last year, as he rebounded from a disappointing first season with the Cubs. And bounce back he did, with the best ERA of his career (2.68).

This year, as the Marlins closer, Kintzler topped that performance with a 2.22 ERA. Among National League relievers, Kintzler’s 12 saves are second to only Brewers closer Josh Hader’s 13. Kintzler has been a steadying presence in an inconsistent bullpen.

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The Marlins’ roster is full of talented prospects, including outfielders Monte Harrison and Jesus Sanchez, first baseman Lewin Diaz, second baseman Isan Diaz and Shortstop Jazz Chisholm.  Their futures look bright, but their potential at the plate in the playoffs remains unknown.

It’s a small sample size, but all of them are batting below .200 this season.

The Marlins also have veteran hitters like Starling Marte to begin to balance out their youth. But if the Marlins offense, whose 263 runs this season put them in the bottom third of the league, is going to support its strong pitching staff, Marlins prospects are going to have to hit.

 

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The Marlins have made the postseason just two other times in MLB history: 1997 and 2003. They won the World Series both times.

It’s remarkable that the Marlins can say they’ve never lost a playoff series, but it also points to a concerning pattern of rebuilds and tear downs.

A Derek Jeter-led ownership group has been credited with changing the culture of the organization over the past three years. And this rebuild seems to set the club up for sustained success.  

Not only did the Marlins end a decade-long streak of losing records this season. They also have a Top-5 farm system.

 

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The last time the Marlins were in the playoffs, they were a part of an infamous moment at Wrigley Field – one that couldn’t have happened in 2020, with no fans in the stands.

As many Cubs fans would like to forget, the Cubs had a 3-2 series lead in the 2003 NLCS and a 3-0 lead in Game 6 when the Marlins’ Luis Castillo hit a long foul ball. Cubs left fielder Moisès Alou leaped, extending his glove over the wall. But lifelong Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached for the ball and deflected it.

The story became legend, and for a heartbroken fan base Bartman became the scapegoat for the Cubs’ NLCS loss to the Marlins. The incident was another piece of evidence that the Cubs were cured.

Of course, the core of this Cubs team broke the curse with a 2016 World Series victory. And Bartman received a World Series ring.

“We don’t want to be known just for breaking the curse,” Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said this weekend. “We want to keep doing this thing.”

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