Miami, Florida – If one word was used to describe the 2020 baseball season it would be this: Unbelievable. To think we were witnessing the Miracle Marlins. Man, what a wild 60-games. Even as I write this it’s so surreal knowing the Miami Marlins are going to the playoffs. The entire year itself has been nothing short of crazy. Before the abbreviated season started I did not imagine typing the Marlins and October baseball in the same sentence. At the time my prediction was the Fish finishing at 27-33 but I did mention that if they hit the way they did in their two exhibition games in Atlanta they could finish a couple of games above .500. They did.
It was a shortened season with no fans, an expanded playoff format, seven-inning doubleheaders, a runner on second in extras, lots of safety protocols, and a ton of MLB debuts. The campaign was a rollercoaster filled with ups and downs. At one point we didn’t even know if there would be any baseball following the ballclub’s COVID-19 outbreak that at its peak had 20 cases among the players and coaches.
The Miami Marlins' home opener against the Baltimore Orioles Monday night has been canceled, sources told @JeffPassan, as coronavirus cases continue to pop up among the team.
The total number of cases in recent days is at least 14. https://t.co/yb9Mj3bP1l
— ESPN (@espn) July 27, 2020
Let’s not forget the St. Louis Cardinals had their own cluster of cases and the Philadelphia Phillies too were affected. While MLB scrambled to readjust, the Marlins dealt with the fact that over half their players were quarantined. CEO Derek Jeter reflected on this in the latest media presser.
“When we restarted the season I said it was going to be a test for our organizational depth, not just for our team but all teams, and we had a lot of optimism in the depth for our system but you never knew that something like this would happen and you had to replace 18 guys at once.”
Highs and Lows
The front office used their alternate training site, the waiver wire, and trades to reinforce a depleted roster. Journeymen, free agents, even guys playing indy league baseball were brought in. The bullpen was the hardest hit. The Marlins would also be without their star player Miguel Rojas. Few thought the team would do well. But to Jeter and Michael Hill, these players weren’t just going to play baseball, they were going to compete.
“I have always been asked, is it culture that comes first and then winning or is it that winning come first and then the culture,” Jeter said.
“In my mind, everyone has to have a winning mindset and that is what I have been preaching since day one to our group since I took over.” – Derek Jeter
After eight days of inactivity due to COVID-19, Miami returned to the field sweeping the four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles. Suddenly they found themselves in first place (via win percentage) within the NL East at 7-1. Managing to hold it for a while, fans were showing excitement. Roughly a month after the outbreak those affected slowly trickled back. Their timing was impeccable because the Fish struggled in an ugly five-game losing streak.
Linsanity. Don't sleep on Miami. pic.twitter.com/Zx5jlmnym4
— MLB (@MLB) August 7, 2020
Another up and down moment was when the Marlins won the crucial September home series versus Philadelphia taking five out of seven only to let the Red Sox series slip through their fingers. They bounced back against the Nationals but then lost handily to the Braves, their rivals clinched the division. Speaking of, the 29-9 loss to Atlanta on Roberto Clemente Day had to be the second-lowest point of the season. Traumatic losing aside, the Fighting Fish took a licking and kept on kicking. Slumps, injuries, bad starts, blown saves, you name it they overcame it.
The last time the Miami Marlins made it to the playoffs was back in 2003. I was still in high school (Coral Gables class of 2005) at the time and managed to attend both the NLDS and NLCS with my father. I was there when Jeff Conine fired it to home plate from left field just in time as J.T. Snow collided into Iván Rodríguez for the out to win the series. At home, my grandmother went wild when the team won since she is a huge fan of Mr. Marlin. Pretty sure she had a crush on him.
When I went to Game 4 of the National League championship I remember being very angry we lost to the Chicago Cubs. Didn’t talk to anyone for the rest of the evening, not even my parents. The then Florida Marlins were down 3-1 in the series and their chances looked very bleak. Boy did things turn around.
10/04/2003: with the tying run at 2nd base and the go-ahead run at 1st base, Jeff Conine and Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez made this clutch play to get the final out to win Game 4 of the NLDS and send the Marlins to the NLCS.https://t.co/7EIs1LhhC7 pic.twitter.com/eo207rnVCY
— Brad Badini ⚾️ (@celeBRADtion) January 28, 2020
Given the craziness of 2020, I guess its only fitting for the ballclub to take on the very same team they defeated the last time they went to the playoffs. Cubs fans have to be salivating at the thought of getting their revenge 16 years later. But they must not forget, nor we, that the Marlins have never lost a postseason series. Miami is one of the most exciting teams to watch. They rose through the adversity, showing camaraderie and grit. We are witnessing the Miracle Marlins, after all. Despite having power arms in the starting rotation the road to the World Series is as tough as ever, can they make it 3-for-3?
In the end, a lot of players stepped up throughout the season becoming unsung heroes. Youngsters made their career debuts showing they belong in the big show while others performed to convince coach Don Mattingly that they were more than just temporary replacements. Off the top of my head, Miggy Ro is who comes to mind when I think of the team MVP. Jeter offered nothing but praise for the shortstop.
“He is an example of a player that has improved every single year. He’s taken on a leadership role in the clubhouse. He’s taken on a leadership role in the community. He has taken on a leadership role with the media. He has done everything you could ask and want a player to do.”
As the heart and soul of the ballclub, Rojas was a leader on and off the field. However, the contributions from the pitching staff, the bullpen, and those at the plate cannot be so easily discounted. So rather than list a bunch of players I will say this was really a team effort in every sense of the word. Nearly everyone helped get this far. Against all odds, naysayers, and questionable calls from behind the plate (come on you saw it too often) Miami has gone from losing over a hundred games last season to World Series contender.
— Marlins Radio (@MarlinsRadio) September 26, 2020
No matter what happens I am proud of this unique group of players. I’m glad I was present in witnessing the Miracle Marlins. Bask in the glory fans, win or lose as their former tagline suggested they’re just getting started.