For a franchise that’s only making its third-ever postseason appearance in 28 years, they have quite the eventful history with their opponent set for the first round.
That would be the Miami Marlins, who famously wrapped up each of their previous playoff showings with a World Series title — but haven’t played beyond the regular season since 2003.
Thanks to the shortened 60-game campaign with an expanded October field, here they are set to meet the Chicago Cubs, the organization they actually defeated that year for the National League pennant in very controversial fashion. The name “Steve Bartman” is all that needs to be said.
It’s one of the more fascinating matchups to kick off this once-a-lifetime postseason, which for 2020 only, commenced with a best-of-three format. While all the starting pitching assignments weren’t set in stone at press time Tuesday, let’s delve into each likely pairing of probables.
Sandy Alcantara vs. Kyle Hendricks: The 2019 All-Star, Alcantara, gets his first taste of playoff action. And based on his most recent work, he seems up for the task.
Alcantara is entering with a ton of momentum after closing out his season by firing five consecutive quality starts, including a finale that saw him pitch into the eighth against the New York Yankees and hold them to two earned runs while striking out a season-high nine batters.
Hendricks has surprisingly never been an All-Star but he certainly has pitched like one the last handful of years and even owns a finish atop the NL ERA leaderboard from 2016. Hendricks was probably enjoying his best campaign since then, compiling a 2.88 ERA and 1.00 WHIP alongside a pretty 64-8 K/BB ratio. Being that he, too, stitched five straight quality starts coming in, it’s hard to doubt either. UNDER
Sixto Sanchez vs. Yu Darvish: Interestingly, the superior pitching matchup might come in Game 2 when these two talented hurlers go at it.
Darvish, of course, crafted a sensational 2020, even being one of the frontrunners for this year’s NL Cy Young Award. He led the league in wins with eight and finished in the top five in ERA (2.01) and WHIP (0.96). His usual excellent strikeout rate (11.0 K/9) wasn’t too shabby, either.
Miami will likely counter with their most curious — and perhaps highest-ceiling — young starter in Sanchez. The 22-year-old rookie can actually match Darvish’s heat, wielding an eye-opening average fastball velocity of 99 mph. Though he struggled a bit after his outstanding first five starts in the big leagues, Sanchez looks like he can handle this Cubs lineup. UNDER
Pablo Lopez vs. Jon Lester (If necessary): If there’s a decisive Game 3, look for the veteran Lester to get the ball. While he’s the right choice for what would be an elimination contest based on his experience and past success, that doesn’t change the fact he was absolutely shelled in his final start last Saturday. And here he’d have to contend with an offense that produced the eighth-best team OPS (.775) against left-handed pitching.
Like his rotation mates preceding him, Lopez would be in line for his playoff debut. The 24-year-old was very solid in his third career season, logging career-best marks in ERA (3.61), WHIP (1.19) and batting average against (.230). However, I’d rather trust the proven Cubs bats in this potential do-or-die scenario. OVER
Last week: 0-0