The sixth-seeded Miami Marlins are in the playoffs just one season after losing 105 games. Returning to the postseason for the first time since 2003. They’ll face the third-seeded Chicago Cubs in the opening round, starting on Wednesday. The Cubs are taking part in the postseason for the fifth time in the previous six seasons.
The Marlins finished the regular season with a 31-29 record, good for second place in the National League East. The Cubs, meanwhile, finished the regular season 34-26, taking first place in the National League Central.
The series will be a best-of-three, with all three games (if necessary) taking place at Wrigley Field, in Chicago, Ill. No off days are scheduled, with Game 1 Wednesday, Game 2 on Thursday, and Game 3 on Friday if it is necessary.
Three Keys to Victory for Miami Marlins
Make Use of Speed on the Basepaths
The Marlins are far from an offensive powerhouse, ranking 21st in MLB in runs scored during the season. Much of that offensive struggle can be blamed on their lack of power as they clubbed just 60 home runs during the 60-game sprint. Where they do have an edge over almost every team, though, is on the basepaths. The Marlins were one of three teams to steal more than 50 bases during the shortened season. So, while offensive explosions aren’t coming, it’ll be important for the Marlins to get every run possible. That makes stealing bases and running the bases aggressively vital so they can get every runner possible across the plate.
Quality Opener From Sandy Alcantara
Alcantara will take the mound in Game 1 for the Marlins while looking to give Miami a head-start in the series. Facing Kyle Hendricks, it’s crucial Alcantara provides a quality start because it’s likely Hendricks will do so for the Cubs. To set his team up for success, Alcantara just needs to keep doing what he has been doing. In September, Alcantara’s ERA was 2.30 over 31.1 innings, which led him to a 2-1 record in the month. With a quality start and good baserunning from his teammates, the Marlins will be in a position to take the series opener.
Timely Hitting From Veterans
One reason why the Marlins have bounced back from last season’s disappointing campaign is because of their timely hitting from key players. If they want to advance past the Cubs, that trend will have to continue. Brian Anderson hit just .255 during the regular season, but he stepped it up when runners were in scoring position. With RISP, his average leaped to .395, helping his team get every run possible. Starling Marte, a big mid-season trade acquisition, will also be crucial. In September, he had his lowest batting average of any month this season. He was brought in for the playoff push, and now is his final opportunity to be a difference-maker.
Three Keys to Victory for Chicago Cubs
Aces Lead the Way
The Cubs have a deadly one-two punch at the top of their rotation in Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish. In a three-game series, that pitching advantage could by itself be too much for an inferior opponent to overcome. Both pitchers have been in these moments and have the arsenal to completely shut down an offense like the Marlins. They may need to shut down that Marlins’ offense completely given their season-long struggles at the plate.
Fewer Strikeouts, More Hits
This one may seem overly simple, but it’s a key component to the Cubs being able to handle business against the Marlins. Only four teams struck out more times than the Cubs this season, and only three teams had a worse team batting average than them. Simply put, that’s a recipe for disaster in the playoffs. There’s no better time for the Cubs to reverse these trends, though, as the Marlins ranked 28th in baseball in strikeouts as a pitching staff. The Cubs need to not give their pitchers easy outs, and as a result, they will see more players getting on base. With a lineup as talented as Chicago’s, only good things will come from an increase in balls put in play.
1. Star Players Lead the Way
Between the Marlins and the Cubs, there’s a clear difference in star talent. While that guarantees nothing, it does mean that the Cubs have the ability to have a few players step up and take control of the series. The Cubs big names have struggled mightily all season, especially former National League MVP Kris Bryant. His offensive struggles may be coming to an abrupt end though, as he hit a home-run in each of the Cubs’ final two games. Leading up to those final games, he had hit two total home-runs on the entire season. In addition to Bryant, Chicago will need Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Wilson Contreras to step up when the opportunity presents itself. If the team leaders don’t step up, the Cubs may have a short playoff run.
Head to head, the Cubs are the much more talented team in this series. The Marlins have faced adversity and not backed down all season, but this task might be too much for them to overcome. Without the offensive firepower that other teams possess, expect the Cubs aces to dominate the first two games of this series without forcing their offense to give them much run support. Hendricks and Darvish should be the two key contributors to a Cubs’ opening-round victory.
Prediction: Cubs 2, Marlins 0
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