Wild Card Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Miami Marlins

The Cubs take on the Marlins in a best-of-three at Wrigley Field.

(3) Chicago Cubs vs. (6) Miami Marlins

Playoff baseball is here! The 3-seeded Chicago Cubs (34-26) are taking on the 6-seeded Miami Marlins (31-29) in a best-of-three series at Wrigley Field. The Marlins enter the 2020 postseason in search of their third World Series title, and first since 2003. This is their first postseason since that 2003 World Series title 17 years ago. In the other corner, the Cubs seek their fourth championship, their most recent coming in 2016. They’ve made the postseason in 5 of the last 6 seasons, capturing 3 NL Central titles in that span. The Cubs will be covered by TC Zencka, and the Marlins by Kyle Horton.


Series Schedule

Game One: Wednesday, September 30th, 2:00 PM ET on ABC, Kyle Hendricks vs. Sandy Alcantara

Game Two: Thursday, October 1st, 2:00 PM ET on ABC, Yu Darvish vs. Sixto Sanchez

Game Three (If necessary): Friday, October 2nd, TBD, Jon Lester vs. Pablo Lopez


Chicago Cubs (34-26)

When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, their core position players – Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber – were blessed with immeasurable potential and childlike ignorance. Now, disillusioned and grown, they need a long playoff run to keep hope for this core alive.

The narrative of those upstart Cubs in 2016 actually muddied what really drove that team: a three-headed monster at the front of the rotation and lock-down defense. They blew away the rest of the National League by Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150. The defense isn’t at the level it was in 2016, but it once again led the National League with 5.2 UZR/150 while finishing behind only the Cardinals and Dodgers with 26 DRS.

What’s more, they have a Cy Young candidate fronting the rotation for the first time since that title team when Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks all finished in the top-10 by fWAR. Hendricks’ 1.9 fWAR checks in at 10th in the National League, and Yu Darvish holds the top spot with 3.0 fWAR. Hendricks gets the ball in game one, Darvish follows, and if there’s a decisive third game, the 36-year-old Lester will get the ball with a chance to further cement his legacy in Cubbie blue.

As for those position players, the Cubs return the same core that won the Series, but they have yet to grow into the consistent collection of superstars that was predicted back in ’16. This season proved an unmitigated disaster almost across the board for those Cubs stars – except for the fact that they won the division anyway. As a team, they hit .220/.318/.387, a collective 91 wRC+ that ranked 10th in the National League. Ian Happ and Jason Heyward were the unexpected bell-cows in the first half, but they slumped late (Heyward ended the year in a 1-for-19 slump). Bryant, Contreras, and Rizzo surged late, but they need to prove it was more than a final breath leaving the body of their dying “dynasty”. Baez, meanwhile, needs to bat seventh and use his El Mago powers to help Contreras and Victor Caratini hold the Marlins’ potent run game at bay.

Collectively, their task in this first round cage match with the Marlins will be to work deep counts and put pressure on a young group of Marlins pitchers. If there’s one thing this Cubs team has that the Marlins don’t it’s experience playing in big games. But as they might remember from 2016: experience isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. For the Cubs to turn their history into a genuine asset, the offense has to do their part to expose the immaturity of the arms on the other side. Billy Hamilton will be an asset in that regard, but he’s a silver bullet and the Cubs need their crosses, holy water, and garlic in fully supply as well.

What does that mean in baseball terms? Well, in this case, it means walks. Chicago finished 2nd in the NL with a 10.3 BB% – it was their one consistently above-average skill as a team. They finished 10th in runs, 9th in home runs, 9th in ISO, 9th in stolen bases, and they struck out at the second-highest rate in the NL (25.7 K%). The Cubs will want to slug their way to the second round, but the truth is they probably have a better chance of walking there. Pablo López and Sixto Sánchez are going to be around the plate, but the Marlins are doing the Cubs a favor by throwing Sandy Alcántara and his 8.7 BB% in game one. But even Alcántara is barely below-average in walk rate, so the Northsiders are going to have to do their part to make him work. If the Cubs make a habit of turning 2-1 counts into 1-2, they can expect the series to turn that way as well.


Miami Marlins (31-29)

The Miami Marlins are definitely the biggest surprise within the 2020 expanded playoffs. One of the most losing teams in MLB history, 2020 is their first winning season since 2009, when they were the Florida Marlins. But the 2020 Marlins did the unimaginable, posting a .517 winning percentage and reaching the playoffs for just the third time in club history. What’s crazier than that? The two prior years that the Marlins have reached the postseason have resulted in a World Series title. Are the odds in the Marlins favor?

The Marlins have a winning record, but don’t really do anything that well. Their team offense is middle-of-the-pack, where they are 18th in the league by wRC+ (95). Their lineup is led by Miguel Rojas, Garrett Cooper, and Brian Anderson. Rojas put up 1.6 fWAR in 2020, just .3 short of his career best in 2019 (when he had almost 400 more PA)! He hit .304/.392/.496 with a 11.2% walk rate, and a 142 wRC+. Cooper is also coming off the best offensive season of his short career, where he hit .283/.353/.500 and produced a 133 wRC+. The 29-year-old is in the top-6% by Statcast’s xBA and top-11% by xwOBA. Anderson picked up where his 2019 left off, smashing 11 homers and turning in a .348 wOBA — good for a 121 wRC+. The rest of the potential lineup consists of the recently acquired former All-Star Starling Marte, rookie Jazz Chisholm, Lewis Brinson, Jorge Alfaro, and veterans Corey Dickerson, Matt Joyce, and Jesús Aguilar.

The pitching staff features three starters who can just about hold their own versus any line-up: Pablo López, Sandy Alcántara, and top prospect Sixto Sánchez. López threw 57.1 innings in 2020, posting a 3.61 ERA and 3.09 FIP. His 24.6% strikeout rate and 7.5% walk rate aren’t much to write home about, but López found success from a 52.2% groundball rate and fantastic contact management. Alcántara presents a very similar profile that yielded him a 3.00 ERA and 3.72 FIP across 42.0 innings. Alcántara has a fastball velocity in the top-8% of the league with middling spin. Rounding out the rotation is their most electric arm, rookie Sánchez, who throws a fastball in the top-3% of the league. He threw 39.0 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 3.50 FIP. Sánchez holds the best xERA of the three at 3.11. On the surface, the bullpen doesn’t look fantastic, but it features an elite arm in Yimi Garcia and a few really solid arms in James Hoyt, Brandon Kintzler, and Richard Bleier. Garcia has done an exceptional job suppressing contact in 2020, while also getting plenty of whiffs. He saw 15.0 innings, posting a 0.60 ERA and a 1.66 FIP. He has a hard hit rate in the top-2%, xwOBA in the top-6%, and an xERA in the top-6%. Hoyt posted a 1.23 ERA in 14.2 innings and Kintzler posted a 2.22 ERA in 24.1 innings. Hoyt struck out 32.3% of hitters, placing him in the top-8%, and got whiffs at a rate inside the top-2% of the league! Lastly, Bleier gave up some hard contact, but managed it with a 70.5% groundball rate. He turned in a 2.63 ERA across 13.2 innings.

Defensively, they don’t stand out either. By Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA), the fish rank 25th with -7 OAA. But, they still have some plus defenders! Anderson has played elite defense this season, putting him in the top-6% by OAA, and Rojas and Marte are both in the top-19% by the same statistic. That’s some solid coverage on the left side of the infield and middle of the outfield, the three most important defensive positions aside from catcher. So, their defense probably fares better than we think!


Head-to-Head History

The Marlins and Cubs have a short, but impactful history together in the postseason. In the 2003 NLCS, the Cubs came five outs from the World Series before Steve Bartman and Alex Gonzalez helped the Marlins unravel Mark Prior. The Marlins scored 8 runs in the eight inning of game 6, then beat Kerry Wood in game 7 to win the pennant.

The Cubs, of course, finally got over the hump in 2016, but it’s the Marlins who hold a pristine record in postseason action. The Fish boast a 6-0 postseason series record in their history.



The Marlins and Cubs finished 8th and 10th respectively in wRC+, so neither offense set the world on fire. The Cubs have two gigantic weapons in Hendricks and Darvish to throw in the first two games of the series, however, and they’re backed by a bullpen that’s trending up. With David Ross steering the ship, the Cubs have something substantial to rally behind for the first time since 2016. They’ll use their earnest desire to make a winner of Ross to cultivate some nobody-believes-in-us magic and counteract the Marlins’ team-of-destiny aura. Either narrative will play, but let’s not muddy the waters again: Hendricks and Darvish have been tough to beat all year, and they’ll be tough to beat at Wrigley this week too. Cubs in 2.

-TC Zencka

The Cubs look better stacked to win this series, but it’s 2020 folks. The season was weird and the playoffs are even weirder. The Cubs may have a stronger team, but they don’t have an anthem written by Creed’s Scott Stapp. I’ll take the Marlins in three, with arms wide open. And I’ll stand by this prediction proudly, even in my one last breath, even if it’s my sacrifice. Because I believe the Marlins will take this series higher. And like Stapp said ever so beautifully, the Marlins will soar.

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

-Kyle Horton

TC Zencka

TC Zencka contributes regularly to Pitcher List, and MLB Trade Rumors. Come say hi on Twitter.

One response to “Wild Card Preview: Chicago Cubs vs. Miami Marlins”

  1. theKraken says:

    It is interesting to see the lineup for FLA today. This is a pretty different group than they have been deploying lately. Beyond a lack of talent and direction they have the surely unique issue of going from a rebuild to a contender for the playoffs. They had been regularly deploying guys that are nowhere near MLB ready a lot over the past month and now they are actually playing to win again… its weird but it makes sense. It is interesting to see all those veterans in the lineup because they normally don’t do that. In any case, I think the Cubs are a good draw as a highly beatable top seed. I am not picking FLA but they could have faced worse opponents. To be clear I hope they get beat so badly that Jeffrey Loria ends up in a jail but I won’t hold my breath on that.

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