Miami Marlins

The Boss

By: TJ Hartnett news services

A few years ago, I wrote a story about Augusta National allowing women to play golf at their club. I pointed out that the mere fact that it was news that women were breaking new ground in the 21st century was shameful in and of itself. Not that the move wasn’t important or newsworthy, because it was, just that it was ridiculous how late in the game (no pun intended) that the rule was being changed.

In a similar – but also distinct – manner, the Miami Marlins made the historic move to hire the first female General Manager in Major League Baseball history: Kim Ng.

Not for nothing, she will also be the first Asian-American GM and the first female GM in any of the four major North American Sports.

Ng comes to the gig with 30 years of high-level experience in the league, including the last nine as Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of baseball operations.

Before that, she spent 21 years in the front offices of the Chicago White Sox, the New York Yankees, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, showing up to be GM Brian Cashman’s right-hand woman in New York at the start of their World Series three-peat from 1998-2000.

At the time she was the youngest assistant GM in the league at just 29 years old and only the second woman to be hired to that gig.

In short, she is supremely qualified (the kind of qualifications that, let’s not kid ourselves, would have gotten her hired 10 years ago if she’d been a man), and while likely not the first woman that’s capable of handling the job, Derek Jeter and the Marlins have made her the first to rise to the top.

But with all that said, she’s got work to do. Ng is inheriting a Marlins team that made the postseason for just the third time in history on the backs of an incredibly young and gifted pitching rotation.

All eyes will be on her to solidify their position as a playoff team in a division populated by a Braves team that will be expected to repeat, Nationals & Phillies teams that will one day figure out what to do with their talent, and a Mets team with a new owner who will want to make a splash, and soon.

In the face of all that, it makes sense that Ng might want to make a splash of her own.

Incidentally, the Cleveland Indians have made it known that All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor is on the market.

Ng and the Marlins have a farm system ready to be utilized, and Lindor is just the kind of franchise player that Miami has lacked since JT Realmuto was shipped off to Philadelphia.

Getting Lindor would be a no-brainer acquisition for any team. He’s been the best shortstop in baseball since his rookie season in 2015, even with his underproductive (for him) 2020 campaign.

The best part is – as Lindor is a free agent after 2021 – the Indians’ asking price would have to be (somewhat) reasonable.

Whether or not Ng could extend the shortstop is a whole different conversation, but the appeal of being able to trade for such a marquee name for only a handful of prospects and only one or two top-tier ones would be hard to resist.

Would Lindor put the Marlins over the top in the NL East? Absolutely not.

They’ve got too many holes in their lineup and bullpen for one elite player to change the entire future of the team, even one that made the playoffs last season.

But the positive spotlight is on the Marlins for once and going after Mr. Smile will keep it there.

Braves And Fish

By: TJ Hartnett news services

So, in a rare moment of fortune for a professional sports team housed in Atlanta, I get to write the following sentence: the Atlanta Braves have won the first round on the 2020 MLB Playoffs and are moving on to face the Miami Marlins in a best-of-five set starting on Tuesday.

The reason it’s such a treat to write that sentence, and the reason it’s momentous despite maybe not seeming worthy of such pomp and circumstance, is because I wasn’t employed by The Southern Sports Edition the last time the Braves made it out of the first round.

In fact, I couldn’t be legally employed pretty much anywhere at the time because I was 13 years old.

That’s right, the Braves snapped a 10-series losing streak when the swept the Cincinnati Reds behind some stellar pitching performances from Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and the entire Atlanta bullpen, which shut the Reds down over 2 games and 22 innings.

But instead of dwelling on the past, let’s instead look to the upcoming Division Series against the all-too-familiar Marlins.

There’s good and bad in facing Miami.

The most obvious good being the Braves’ record against the Fish in 2020 was 6 wins against 4 losses.

Normally Atlanta would play Miami almost twice as much, but even in a much smaller sample size, Atlanta has the edge.

But there’s bad, too. The Miami pitching rotation, and particularly the starting trio of Sixto Sanchez, Pablo Lopez, and Sandy Alcantara, is very, very good.

With a two-game sweep of the favored Chicago Cubs, only Alcantara and Sanchez have made appearances so far, but both were excellent.

Alcantara allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings, and Sanchez shut the Cubbies out over 5.

They’ll go toe-to-toe with Fried and Anderson, with Kyle Wright likely in the mix for Atlanta.

The parallels are actually pretty fascinating.

Both rotations are young. Anderson and Sanchez are both rookies that debuted halfway through the season.

Lopez and Wright both debuted in 2018 and showed only flashes of what they can do before this season’s more consistent success (Wright’s is a much smaller sample size).

Alcantara and Fried have become their respective teams’ aces despite only solidifying their spots in the rotation last season.

Plus, Fried is the oldest of this sextet at the tender age of 26. That’s a lot of inexperience for a lot pitchers that these two teams are relying on.

The big difference between these two teams and the thing that likely haunts the Marlins’ dreams, is the offense.

The Marlins have one that is serviceable; the Braves have arguably the best bats in the league.

They proved that to Miami, beyond a shadow of a doubt, last month when they hung 29 runs, an NL record, on the Fish.

Granted, that offense was slow to wake up against Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo last week. Scoring just 1 run off of that duo in 13 innings.

They came alive at the end of Game 2 and scored 4 runs in the eighth, which is a bad sign for Miami, but they looked bad enough during the rest of the series to question whether or not they’ve gone cold at the worst possible time.

But speculation is just guesswork, and we’ll get to put that all aside and see what happens.

Prize Fish

By: TJ Hartnett news services

We are now just a week away from the end of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

Even with a massively expanded postseason this year, or possibly because of that expansion, it’s pretty clear which teams will be present during round 1 of a playoff that will look wildly different for a lot of different reasons.

Basically, with 16 teams making the cut, all of the decent teams and a couple of middling ones will be in on the final hunt for that World Series trophy; and unless something truly wild happens three of those teams will be hailing from the NL East.

The Braves seem destined to win the division and Marlins and Phillies are both over .500.

Miami is too far behind San Diego in terms of winning percentage to take over the four seed in the playoff tournament, but they’ll likely hold on to the five spot and therefore play the Padres in a three-game set taking place entirely at Petco Park.

The Phillies, assuming they don’t usurp the Marlins in second place, can only be seeded seventh or eighth, which has the dramatic possibility of seeing them face off with Atlanta in Truist Park for the first round.

The Marlins are surely going to win the World Series.

Now that might sound that a pretty bold prediction, but history backs me up here.

Sure, Miami’s season-to-season track record has been underwhelming, to say the least (they’ve never won the division since coming into existence over two and a half decades ago). However, they’ve made it to the postseason via the wild card twice and they’ve never lost a postseason series.

That’s right, two trips to the playoffs; two World Series Championships.

It’s really as simple as that. They’re poised to make the cut at the NL East’s second-place team, and history tells us that that means they won’t lose in the postseason.

But for the sake of argument, let’s briefly look at how they’re going to win their inevitable third Commissioner’s Trophy.

It starts and ends with Miami’s starting pitching.

I’ve rambled on and on here about Atlanta’s struggles with the starting rotation and how the young pitchers they call up have struggled. Miami keeps striking gold when it adds starters to the roster.

For example, highly touted prospect Sixto Sanchez has delivered in a huge way for the fish, giving them innings and not giving up runs. He’s looked every bit of what the Marlins hoped he’d be.

He’s got help on the mound from guys like Sandy Alcantara, who’s only made 5 starts but has gone six innings in all but one, giving up three earned runs or less in those 4 games (he gave up 5 in a 4-inning affair during his second start of the season).

Pablo Lopez has looked good too.

Some of their starters haven’t been up to snuff, like Jose Urena, but looking at the more immediately future: it doesn’t matter. You only need three starters in a three-game series.

Their bullpen is led by guys like Brad Boxberger and James Hoyt.

So, while picking the Marlins to win the whole thing this year may seem like a foolish notion, it’s pitching that matters most in the playoffs, and they’ve got a good crew on the mound.

The mere fact that they’ll be there is all the backup I need.