Youthful Marlins take aim at experienced Cubs

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Chicago’s Wrigley Field is the site for a best-of-three National League wild-card series that will feature the experience of the third-seeded Chicago Cubs against the youth of the sixth-seeded Miami Marlins.

The Cubs, who are in the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years, are expected to start either Yu Darvish (8-3, 2.01 ERA) or Kyle Hendricks (6-5, 2.88) in the Wednesday opener.

Miami is expected to start either Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.00) or Pablo Lopez (6-4, 3.61).

All four of those pitchers are right-handers, and Chicago’s two possible Game 1 starters have a combined age of 64. For Miami, that figure is 49.

The Cubs earned home-field advantage by winning the NL Central, finishing 34-26 under first-year manager David Ross.

It hasn’t always been easy for the club, which endured a season-worst four-game losing streak in mid-August and had three other three-game skids. Chicago lost six of its final nine regular-season games.

“This is the hardest baseball season anybody has had to go through,” Ross said. “Whoever wins this year’s World Series should be extremely proud for overcoming all this adversity.”

Perhaps no team has overcome more than the Marlins, who lost more than half their roster — 18 players — due to positive coronavirus tests. All that happened just three games into the season, and the Marlins spent the next eight days in a Philadelphia hotel, observing quarantine protocols.

Given that, Miami’s 31-29 record and second-place finish in the NL East — above the more experienced Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals — was particularly surprising.

“That’s why this feels so good,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of his team, which lost an NL-worst 105 games in 2019. “You just have to have faith.”

This is just the Marlins’ third-ever playoff berth. The first two ended in World Series championships, in 1997 and 2003. The Marlins eliminated the Cubs in seven games in the 2003 NL Championship Series that is best remembered for Wrigley Field fan Steve Bartman interfering with a foul ball just before the Cubs collapsed in Game 6.

The Cubs, who finally ended their 108-year World Series championship drought in 2016, ranked 20th in the majors this season in runs scored (4.42 per game). The Marlins ranked 21st (4.38).

As for team ERAs, Chicago came in 10th at 3.99 while Miami ranked 21st at 4.86.

Hendricks has a 2.98 ERA in 11 postseason games (10 starts), including a 1.00 ERA in nine World Series innings. Hendricks is 36-20 with a 2.54 ERA in his career at Wrigley Field, and he is 3-1 with a 1.28 ERA in seven games against the Marlins.

Darvish doesn’t have the same postseason chops, as he possesses a 5.81 ERA in six games, all starts. Darvish is 7-11 with a 4.15 ERA in 28 Wrigley starts. Against the Marlins, he has a 6.08 ERA in five starts.

Alcantara and Lopez are set to make their playoff debuts this week. Alcantara has a 4.50 ERA in two Wrigley appearances (one start), and he has a 5.68 overall ERA against the Cubs in four games (two starts).

Lopez has faced the Cubs just once, taking a loss last year after allowing two runs in five innings.

Miami’s top three starters — including Sixto Sanchez for a possible third game — are hard throwers, and the Cubs strike out a lot (568 times this season, fifth-most in the NL). But the Cubs also can get hot with the long ball, especially center fielder Ian Happ (team-high 12 homers and .866 OPS), first baseman Anthony Rizzo and left fielder Kyle Schwarber (11 homers each).

Third baseman Brian Anderson led Miami with 11 homers while shortstop Miguel Rojas’ .888 OPS topped the club.

Both teams feel good about their bullpens starting the playoffs. For Miami, Brandon Kintzler (2.22 ERA, 12 saves in 14 chances) led the way, with Yimi Garcia (0.60 ERA) serving as a key setup man. But Jose Urena, who could have been a valuable long man, will not be available after he suffered a fractured right forearm on Sunday.

Jeremy Jeffress (1.54 ERA) led Chicago with eight saves, and Craig Kimbrel (5.28 ERA) has pitched much better of late. In his past 14 appearances, Kimbrel produced a 1.42 ERA, perhaps returning to his 2011-18 form (41.5 saves per year).

–Field Level Media

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