The 2020 MLB season has been both a dream and a nightmare for Marlins fans. Before the first pitch could even be thrown on Opening Day, the club lost catcher Jorge Alfaro to the injured list. Many of Miami’s most recognizable and impactful players soon joined him in what has since been confirmed as a COVID-19 outbreak. Major League Baseball kept them off the field for an entire week in order for the situation to be controlled and investigated. Even now, it’s unclear when the infected players will return and what the virus’ long-term effects may be.
But during both the pre-outbreak series against the Phillies and the current one against the Orioles, Marlins players have, somehow, been able to put their stress and health concerns aside and excel. Winning five of their first six games matches the hottest start to a season in franchise history. Everybody’s feeling confident, including the team’s official Twitter account:
Benefiting from the volatility of an abbreviated 60-game season and the expanded playoff field—eight spots for National League teams instead of the usual five—the Marlins entered their opening game with a 9.4% chance of a postseason berth, according to FanGraphs. That has climbed considerably to 21.4% as of late Thursday morning.
However, the Marlins’ remaining opponents are arguably tougher than anybody else’s. A bullpen patched together with DFA’d arms and journeymen won’t continue performing at an elite level despite solid first impressions from the likes of Nick Vincent, Josh A. Smith and Justin Shafer. Management’s reluctance to call up top prospects is understandable yet sub-optimal for competing in 2020.
The realistic best-case scenario? Sneaking into October with a .500-ish record.
Would that accomplishment be taken seriously? The total number of games they play is a factor, MLB fans said in the latest SB Nation Reacts survey (register here). Virus outbreaks on the Fish and Cardinals—and subsequent postponements—raise doubts about whether 60 games per team will even be logistically possible. More than 90 percent of survey respondents need to see 50-plus regular season contests to ensure the legitimacy of the playoff field.
No matter what, making up for lost time will require the Marlins to play occasional doubleheaders like they did on Wednesday. The majority of fans predictably disapprove of MLB’s sudden decision to shorten games to seven innings in those scenarios.
But that may inadvertently work in the Marlins’ favor—fewer innings should prevent their sketchy bullpen from being overexposed.
After Thursday’s series finale in Baltimore, the Marlins continue their road trip with three games against the Mets and a pair against the Blue Jays. If they return to Miami with a record of at least 8-4 and have multiple players ready to be activated from the IL during that homestand (more likely to be hitters and relievers than starters, who need team to rebuild stamina), then I can begin seeing a path to contending.
What do you think? Comment below.