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A shortened season helps Marlins’ playoff chances in 2020

There are a few instances of poorly projected teams making the playoffs since MLB expanded its playoff format eight years ago.

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Marlins fans ready for the post season
An abbreviated schedule could have Miami fans celebrating similarly if things go right.
Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

Back when we were due to have a normal, 162-game season, the Marlins were projected to win 71 games, according to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA standings. As of today, baseball still isn’t being played. By now, it’s pretty much a given that each team will not play a full slate this year. While this is not what anyone wants, there is still a possible silver lining for the Marlins as a franchise and for their fans.

A shorter season means teams who weren’t expected to compete over a full one could remain in the playoff race if they got off to an extended hot start. SB Nation MLB recently put out a FanPulse poll asking how many games people expect MLB teams to play this year. Ninety percent of those who responded think that the regular season will be fewer than 120 games in 2020.

In March, commissioner Rob Manfred appeared on SportsCenter and said he thinks they need to have “a regular season with a credible number of games” and that MLB’s overall goal was “to play as many games as we possibly can given the limitations associated with the public health concerns.”

While Manfred would not give a precise number of games he thought was reasonable, it seems to me that number would need to be greater than half of a regular season — at least 90 and more probably 100. In the past week, several of the leading baseball writers such as Jeff Passan, Ken Rosenthal, and Bob Nightengale put out pieces indicating a similar number of games was likely this season.

In order to see how a shortened season might help the Marlins’ playoff hopes, I went back and looked at playoff teams who in the preseason had been projected for under 80 wins since MLB expanded to a 10-team format in 2012, what their best 100-game stretch was, and how they started over their first 100 contests.

In that time, the worst qualifying record for such a spot has been the 2017 Minnesota Twins, with a record of 85-77 and a .525 winning percentage. Five other teams made it without winning 55-percent of their games. In a 100-game season, the Marlins would have a legit shot at a postseason if they win between 52 and 54 games.

As you can see, all of the teams in the chart had extremely hot 100-game stretches at some point during the season, which is almost always the case for playoff teams, and would be a must for Miami. All but those 2017 Twins won at least 57 games during their best 100-game stretch.

That aforementioned Minnesota team provides yet another similarity to the Marlins in their records the previous season. The 2016 Twins only won two more games than the Fish did last year.

In terms of preseason projection parellels, this Marlins team was due to be just one win shy of what the eventual 2015 world champion Royals team was allotted. The 2012 and 2016 Orioles also secured playoff appearances despite only being projected for 71 wins.

Additionally, seven of the 15 teams above started the season by winning between 49 and 55 of their first 100 games. The Fish would need to start hot out of the gate, win some close games, and probably get a little lucky to have a shot at a wild-card berth (assuming the current playoff format is kept). It may seem unlikely, but it’s far from impossible.

Remember, the PECOTA projections are only a 50th-percentile likelihood. There’s at least one simulation where the Fish win 94 games over a full season! And with the influx of talent Derek Jeter and co. have brought to the team this year, yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance.