Don’t Call It an Upset: Marlins Blank Cubs, Move on To NLDSon October 2, 2020 at 11:15 pm

Don’t Call It an Upset: Marlins Blank Cubs, Move on To NLDS

There was a philosophical quandary after Miami’s 2-0 Game 2 win over Chicago: Is it really an upset loss if the higher seed never looked like the favorite? The Cubs — NL Central champs, No. 3 in the postseason field, blessed with talent — are gone. The Marlins — bottom feeders the last several years, season nearly ended by COVID before it got started, built out of spare parts and held together with string, in the postseason by virtue only of its expansion — are moving on. And after two games in an empty and chilly Wrigley Field, that result doesn’t feel like a fluke.

The numbers on Chicago’s side of things are grizzly: 18 innings played, one run scored, that coming on a single hit: Ian Happ‘s solo homer off Sandy Alcantara in the fifth inning of Game 1. Since then, no runs in 13 straight innings, most of them quiet and all of them frustrating. You saw plenty of that in Game 2: After struggling to get the measure on rookie righty Sixto Sanchez and his booming fastball early on, Cubs hitters seemed to figure something out the second time through the order. In the fourth, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber drew back-to-back walks to open the frame. One out later, Jason Heyward cracked a broken-bat single to right, and perhaps feeling pressure to get on the board, third base coach Will Venable sent Contreras — not a glacier like most catchers, but no one’s idea of Billy Hamilton — from second. The play was close, but a strong throw from Matt Joyce and a nice tag by Chad Wallach got him at home to end the threat and keep things scoreless.

[embedded content]

There were more chances for the Cubs after that. They loaded the bases in the fifth on two singles and a hit-by-pitch with two outs only to have Schwarber lunge at a low Sanchez offering and lift it lazily and harmlessly into left. In the eighth, Contreras took a Yimi Garcia pitch off the arm (after unsuccessfully leaning into a slider earlier in the at-bat) with one out, but Schwarber and Kris Bryant both flew out to end it. And though the ninth started promisingly with a leadoff double from Heyward, he never moved from second as Javier Baez, David Bote, and pinch-hitter Jason Kipnis all struck out against Brandon Kintzler to finish it.

All told, Chicago collected just nine hits, only three for extra bases, in 69 trips to the plate. Baez, Bryant, Schwarber, and Anthony Rizzo combined to go 1-for-29 with a single, two walks, and nine strikeouts. Happ was literally the entirety of the offense. No button that David Ross pushed worked, though one gets the sense that said button wasn’t actually connected to anything. For all the would-be superstars up and down the lineup, Chicago had been treading water on offense all of September. It can hardly come as a surprise that two games tacked onto that long and dry stretch didn’t result in an immediate turnaround.

That said, Miami’s excellent young starters certainly deserve credit for throttling that lineup. Alcantara was brilliant in Game 1, and while Sanchez seemed to lose steam toward the end of his turn, he still hurled five shutout innings with six strikeouts. His four-seamer was untouchable, averaging 98.3 mph, peaking at 101, and generating 11 swings-and-misses out of 66 offerings. The 22-year-old Dominican who was in diapers during the peak years of Pedro Martinez‘s career looks for all the world like the second coming of his idol, a man he reveres so much that, while he wears 73 on his back, he has 45 tattooed on his neck. Friday’s outing, his postseason debut, was further proof that his future could be as bright as Martinez’s once was.

Miami’s future now includes a trip to the Texas bubble and a Division Series matchup with Atlanta, the division rival that also made their way this postseason through a punchless NL Central squad. Once more, the Marlins will be underdogs in that one, but that’s been the case all season, and each time this collection of kids and veterans has kept chugging along well past what anyone expected. This is a roster ultimately greater than the sum of its parts, kept aloft by unlikely heroes like Joyce or Garrett Cooper, whose solo homer off Yu Darvish in the seventh broke the scoreless tie and put Miami ahead for good. Cooper is 29 and on his third franchise; drafted by Milwaukee in 2013, he was traded four years later to the Yankees for a reliever who appeared in two games for the Brewers before being waived, then was shipped to Miami six months after that. A projected bench bat, he instead became one of the team’s most productive hitters. That’s something that’s played out up and down the lineup with the likes of Jesus Aguilar and Corey Dickerson and Jon Berti, all players scavenged from around the league who are now part of a playoff core.

On the other side of the Little South Florida Engine That Could is the Cubs, whose postseason lives since 2016, to crib from Thomas Hobbes, have been nasty, brutish, and short. That championship was supposed to be the start of a dynasty; instead, Friday’s anemic loss had the feel of a window slamming shut on the end of this particular roster’s run. Baez and Bryant were awful all season, and it’s likely that the latter will be shopped heavily this winter as he has only one year left before free agency. Schwarber doesn’t look like the impact bat the North Side envisioned after his World Series heroics. Rizzo and Heyward are both on the wrong side of 30; so are Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, and while both were excellent this season and series, there’s not much pitching behind them. Yet another winter will come in Chicago full of questions with not many immediate or easy answers as to how to fix a team that routinely plays well below its talent level.

That’s to take nothing away from the Marlins. The concern a number of fans probably had going into MLB’s new and expanded postseason was whether this best-of-three opening round was going to lead to unfair chaos — such as lesser teams stealing games from better squads. That’s not what happened here. Forget the seeding: The team moving on from this series is undeniably the one that deserved to.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *