With the expanded MLB playoff format this season, the Cubs will take on the Miami Marlins in the Wild Card Series round beginning on Wednesday. The two teams meet each other in the postseason for the first time since the 2003 NLCS, where the Marlins came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Cubs in seven games on their way to a World Series championship.
The Marlins have never lost a postseason series in franchise history, winning the World Series in each of their two postseason appearances (1997, 2003). Below is a preview of all the major aspects of this series:
How They Got Here
The Cubs won the NL Central division –– their third division championship in five seasons –– with a 34-26 record. A hot start out of the gate resulted in a 13-3 record, but poor bullpen performances plus a fading offense resulted in just a 21-24 record since those first 16 games.
The bullpen struggled at first, but settled down after manager David Ross found his core group of five to six players he likes. The offense, however, struggled mightily throughout the season. Javy Baez was the main culprit, hitting well below expectations with a batting average of just .203 with an OPS of .599.
The strength of this Cubs team is definitely the starting rotation, which is led by Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. Darvish is a top candidate for the NL Cy Young Award with a 2.03 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 93 K, and a 6.64 K/BB ratio. Hendricks, who will get the ball for Game 1, has also had a great season, leading the Cubs in innings pitched (81.1) and only walking eight –– yes eight –– batters.
After coming off their worst season since 1998, the Marlins had very little expectations coming into this season. The club did sign many new players in the offseason and some did have a positive impact on the team, including Jesus Aguilar (.277/.352/.457) and reliever Yimi Garcia (0.60 ERA, 1.66 FIP, 0.93 WHIP).
However, a COVID-19 outbreak among several players in the clubhouse put the brakes on the Marlins’ season after only three games, which would’ve put many teams in a disadvantageous situation they could not get out of.
On top of that, stats show that the Marlins record of 31-29 is not reflective of what their run differential should result in. Based on MLB’s Expected Wins formula, the Marlins should only have been a 26-win team (~70 wins during a 162-game season). While the record is all that matters, many experts will predict the Marlins will be unable to continue their unbeaten postseason history.
Although the Cubs are more talented than the Marlins, this won’t be an easy series. The Marlins biggest strength lies in their starting rotation led by Sandy Alcantara (3.00 ERA), Sixto Sanchez, and Pablo Lopez.
Cubs v Marlins: Lineups
- Key Stats: Runs: 265 (20st) Batting Average: .220 (27th) wRC+: 95 (18th) OPS+: 90 (21st)
The Cubs offense is filled with talented players. Kris Bryant is a former MVP and has been at or near the top of the roster for Cubs hitters when it comes to fWAR over the past few seasons –– 2018 being the exception. Anthony Rizzo is a career .271/.372/.485 player and Willson Contreras has a career OPS+ of 113.
However, this lineup has been bad. Javy Baez has had the worst offensive year of his career and Kris Bryant has been riddled with injuries. Anthony Rizzo has also been a shell of himself with just a .222 average.
Thankfully, others such as Ian Happ (.258/.361/.505) and Jason Heyward (.265/.392/.456) have picked up the slack.
- Key stats Runs: 263 (21st) Batting Average: .244 (17th) wRC+: 95 (18th) OPS+: 92 (19th)
The Marlins offense has not fared much better than the Cubs offense. Both teams have eerily similar slash lines. Shortstop Miguel Rojas (.304/.392/.496) and first baseman, and former Milwaukee Brewer, Jesus Aguilar have been the two best hitters in the lineup. Brian Anderson has also consistently got on base and has hit the ball well with a .810 OPS.
Both teams have struggled to score runs at times and have been inconsistent to say the least. However, the advantage goes to the Cubs as they have more talent and, therefore, have a higher probability of having a better series at the plate.
Cubs v. Marlins: Pitching
- Key Stats: ERA: 4.86 (21st) ERA+: 113 (7th) FIP: 5.02 (26th) WHIP: 1.22 (7th)
- Key Stats: ERA: 4.86 (21st) ERA+: 94 (21st) FIP: 5.02 (26th) WHIP: 1.45 (24th)
Starting Pitching Advantage: Cubs
The Cubs easily get the nod over the Marlins when it comes to the starting rotation. While the Marlins rotation is solid, the 1-2 punch of Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks is one of the best in the bigs.
The Cubs offense may struggle against Alcantara and Sanchez, but the starting pitching should continue to dominate in games 1 and 2.
Bullpen Advantage: Even
If we evaluated this series just one month ago, this would be a no-brainer as the Cubs bullpen overall hadn’t had a great season to that point. A great September, which saw the Cubs bullpen lead the National League in bullpen ERA, has made this an even matchup.
Jeremy Jeffress has been phenomenal as the Cubs closer, taking the spot from Craig Kimbrel who has rebounded from a disappointing start to the season. Jason Adam, Rowan Wick, Ryan Tepera, and Dan Winkler have also had really solid seasons. The loss of Wick is a tough pill to swallow, but the rest of the pen has still found their stride.
The Marlins also have a decent bullpen led by Yimi Garcia (0.60 ERA, 0.93 WHIP) and James Hoyt (1.23 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). Former Cub Brandon Kintzler is the Marlins closer and has had a decent season as well (2.22 ERA, 1.31 WHIP).
Game 1: Kyle Hendricks (6-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 64 K) vs. Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 39 K)
Game 2: Yu Darvish (8-3, 2.01 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 93 K) vs. Sixto Sanchez (3-2, 3.46 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 33 K)
Game 3 (if nec.): Jon Lester (3-3, 5.16 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 42 K) vs. Pablo Lopez (6-4, 3.61 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 59 K)
Cubs On Tap Series Predictions:
Unsurprisingly, everybody on the Cubs On Tap crew has picked the Cubs to win this series.
Justin: Cubs in 3
Brian: Cubs in 3
Cody: Cubs in 2
Ron: Cubs in 3
Juice: Cubs in 3
Schwartzy: Cubs in 2