MLB and the MLBPA finally got it together. The public had long since turned on billionaires and millionaires squabbling amid a global pandemic, unprecedented unemployment and pushes for social change and justice. Reports flooded out once the two sides agreed to a semblance of a season in 2020. Now, baseball fans can turn some of their attention to what was once the national pastime. And South Florida can support the 2020 Marlins, because, hey, you never know.
The Miami Marlins have struggled to find their footing in South Florida despite a pair of World Series championships. Years of incompetent ownership, boarding on villainous at times, gave way to a new group seeking to reshape the franchise’s fortunes.
The Marlins have transformed their operation, not only on the field but also in the community. The team sports a diverse set of voices from CEO Derek Jeter to GM Mike Hill and COO Caroline O’Conner. They’ve been active during the pandemic, participating in food distribution drives and other community outreach programs.
On the field, the Marlins are coming off a 105-loss season, but the future is bright. Heady trades and considered free agent signings have helped retool the farm system, which is now considered among the best in the league. The Major League product should be improved as well.
With a new season on the horizon, here are five reasons to watch the 2020 Marlins.
1 – 2020 Marlins Schedule Sprint
The schedule for the 2020 Marlins will be no joke. The team has amongst the most difficult schedules across baseball’s new landscape.
Miami will face their NL East counterparts 40 times. They’ll face AL East opponents the other 20. Last season, the Marlins posted a 24-52 record against the NL East. Their only winning mark came versus Philadelphia (10-9). The Marlins had losing records against Atlanta (4-15), the Mets (6-13) and Washington (4-15). Also, Miami was swept by the Tampa Bay Rays (0-4).
For 2020, this schedule will be a gauntlet. The defending champion Nationals may have lost their MVP candidate (Anthony Rendon), but they still sport three aces. The Braves built a strong team with stars. And the Phillies spent aggressively in free agency, while the Mets hold a loaded pitching staff.
Tampa Bay won 96 games in 2019 and sport three aces of their own. The Yankees have perhaps the deepest roster in the AL. Oh, and after winning 103 games, they added Gerrit Cole, who’s coming off a 20-5, 2.50 ERA, 326-strikeout season.
Boston is retooling its roster and neither the Blue Jays nor the Orioles can say they’re more talented than Miami. That said, six teams on the Marlins schedule averaged 93 wins last season.
2 – 2020 Marlins Youth Movement
The Marlins have a talented young core. Those players are being paired with savvy veteran additions, while top-shelf prospects near the big leagues. All this combined for Miami’s manager, Don Mattingly to say the 2020 Marlins will “make some noise.”
Miami’s roster holds a number of young, capable players. Isan Diaz, Jorge Alfaro and Brian Anderson all look like foundational talents. The pitching staff sees the likes of all-star Sandy Alcantara take the hill every fifth start. Caleb Smith and Pablo Lopez demonstrate the depth of the rotation.
These players will soon be supplemented by prospects. Monte Harrison, Jazz Chisholm, Lewin Diaz and Jesus Sanchez are all nearing the bigs. Jerar Encarnacion and JJ Bleday, among others, are sharpening their skills in the minors and have bright futures.
Although an expanded 30-man roster, which will be reduced as the season progresses, could see some of these prospects make their Major League debuts, it’s unlikely for most. Players will accrue a full year of service time in this abbreviated season. This may keep the Marlins from calling up some of these prospects in order to maintain an extra year of contract control.
3 – Universal DH
It’s a long time coming for the National League, but the Universal DH will finally be deployed across the baseball landscape. Although some purists see this as a negative, the Universal DH will certainly help the 2020 Marlins. (Here are 5 Reasons the Marlins Benefit from a Universal DH.)
Sure, the Marlins have had success in the past with pitchers at the plate, but not recently. Long gone are the days of Chris Hammond and Dontrelle Willis. Jose Fernandez connected on two career home runs, but it’s been more than four years since a Marlins pitcher hit one out.
Since 2015, Marlins pitchers rank 14th out of 15 NL teams in On-Base Percentage (.137) with over 1515 Plate Appearances. In addition, they sport the highest strikeout rate of all NL teams (45 percent).
Among the free agent signings for the Marlins this year, outfielder Matt Joyce and first baseman Jesús Aguilar could both fill this role. If Aguilar mans first base instead, Garrett Cooper could see time at DH. Signing veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli could also mean that Alfaro will get a break from catching duties for a turn at DH.
All of this can only help a lineup that connected on the fewest home runs and second-fewest runs scored in baseball last season.
4 – New Rules
One of the complaints against baseball has long been the games are too long. In recent years, MLB has instituted certain rules to accelerate the pace of play, including limiting the amount of mound visits a team can make. But playing without a clock means games could last for hours beyond the normal window of time.
This season, in an effort to reduce the number of pitching changes and, in turn, cut down the average time per game, MLB instituted a rule change that requires pitchers to either face a minimum of three batters in an appearance or pitch to the end of a half-inning, with exceptions for injuries and illnesses.
In addition, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that MLB will implement a rule in which extra innings games will feature innings starting with a runner on second base. This will expedite the ending of games given that the schedule will be so tight this year. Long games will create greater problems this year than they normally would.
The runner-on-second rule has been in place in the minors for two seasons. It premired in the World Baseball Classic, then was tested in the Gulf Coast and Arizona Leagues. In 2018, all minor leagues adopted it.
Under the rule, the runner at second will be the player in the batting order position previous to the leadoff batter of the extra inning. So, usually, the player who made the last out in the previous inning or a pinch runner for that player. If the placed runner scored, it’s considered an unearned run.
The Marlins have decent speed up and down the lineup, and an expanded roster would mean even more speed for Mattingly to deploy. This could help the Marlins improve on 7-9 record in extras last year.
5 – You Never Know
An MLB team has gone from worst to first 13 times since 1990. Despite winning two World Series championships, the Marlins have never won the NL East. They might need to do so to ensure their postseason spot.
In their 27-year history, the Marlins had 11 years when they started the season’s first 60 games at .500 or better. Last season, their record at the 60-game mark was 23-37. Teams won’t have the luxury of a slow start to this season since it’s a sprint.
Washington went from a 19-31 record through 50 games last season to a World Series championship, so strange things have happened before. Even the expansion Florida Marlins had a 61-game stretch in 1993 where they won 30 games.
Unfortunately, MLB didn’t expand the playoffs from 10 teams to 16, which had been discussed in prior iterations of the potential deal with the MLBPA. It’ll be three division winners plus two wild cards per league in the postseason.
For the 2020 Marlins, they’ll want to target 35 wins or so for a possible playoff berth. It won’t be easy, considering the schedule. If the Marlins find themselves out of contention as the trade deadline nears, they could flip some of their veteran talents, like Villar, Aguilar or new closer Brandon Kintzler, for prospects to help the rebuild.