Cubs vs Marlins Wild Card Series Preview (September 30 – October 2): TV and Game Info, Starting Pitchers, Insights

It’s been a bumpy ride, but the Chicago Cubs are your 2020 National League Central Division champions and the No. 3 seed, earning them the right to host the No. 6 Miami Marlins for the Wild Card round of the MLB playoffs. This series will be the teams’ first postseason meeting since the 2003 National League Championship Series. Wednesday will also be their first encounter in 2020 due to the schedule changes imposed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many fans, I would not have expected the Cubs to have earned a playoff appearance with core players like Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo wielding noodle bats for an entire season. Thankfully, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward stepped up to carry the 2020 Cubs offense. Yu Darvish proved why he is a four-time All-Star who helped lead the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series appearance in a campaign deserving of a Cy Young victory.
The Marlins lost 105 games for the worst record in the National League in 2019, but improved to a record of 31-29 in 2020 to earn a playoff spot. They suffered a major setback early in the season when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19, which severely tested their ability to continue competing. The outbreak also damaged fans’ confidence that MLB would be able to pull off a season outside a bubble environment during the pandemic, but the league managed to avoid subsequent large-scale issues.
After the Marlins were allowed to resume play, they needed to use a total of 61 players over the course of the season, making 171 roster moves to complete the 60-game schedule.
While most longtime Cubs fans would prefer not to discuss the 2003 NLCS, this matchup creates an opportunity for the current group to banish those ghosts in what may be their last chance to make a title run together. They will need to rise to the occasion against a Miami pitching staff led by a trio of young power pitchers in order to advance toward the ultimate goal of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Game Time and Broadcast Info

Game 1: Wednesday, September 30 @ 1:08 PM CT; TV – ABC; Radio – 670 The Score
Game 2: Thursday, October 1 @ 1:08 PM CT; TV – ABC; Radio – 670 The Score
Game 3: Friday, October 2 @ 2:08 PM CT (if necessary); TV – ABC; Radio – 670 The Score

Starting Pitchers

Date Pitcher Age T ERA W/L FIP K/BB
9/30 Sandy Alcantara 25 R 3.00 3-2 3.71 2.60
Kyle Hendricks 30 R 2.88 6-5 3.55 8.00 (led NL)
10/1 Sixto Sánchez 22 R 3.46 3-2 3.50 3.00
Yu Darvish 34 R 2.01 8-3 2.23 (led NL) 6.64
10/2 Pablo López 24 R 3.61 6-4 3.09 3.28
Jon Lester 36 L 5.16 3-3 5.14 2.47

What to Watch For

  • The Cubs offense failed to run on all cylinders throughout the year, but they scored 25 runs to secure a series victory over the White Sox during the final weekend of the regular season. Have they turned the corner at the right time or was it just a fluke?
  • The Marlins will be relying on the 1-2 punch of young fireballers Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sánchez. Sánchez was impressive over his first four MLB starts, issuing punchouts at a rate of 26.6% with an ERA of 1.80 in 25.0 IP. However, he faltered in his final two starts, striking out batters at a rate of just 12.5% with an ERA of 6.43 in 14.0 IP. An anemic, impatient Cubs offense could be what Sánchez needs to turn the 1pm hour on Thursday into “Sixto Clock.”
  • Hendricks gets the Game 1 pitching nod behind a 2.54 career ERA in 87 games at Wrigley Field. Will the Professor school the Fish?
  • Jon Lester will be the starter if a third game is necessary. While he posted a 5.16 ERA in 2020, he has a track record as one of the most reliable postseason pitchers in recent MLB history, ranking 8th in career postseason IP (154.0) and 5th in career postseason win probability added (3.4).
  • The Marlins have four players with an OPS above .800 in 2020 (Miguel Rojas, Garrett Cooper, Brian Anderson and Jesús Aguilar) to the Cubs’ two (Happ, Heyward). Anderson and Aguilar are the RBI leaders for the Fish, so limiting traffic on the basepaths ahead of these two batters will be important to the Cubs’ success.
  • The Cubs have skated through the year with a patchwork bullpen. If Craig Kimbrel cannot stay locked in, it will limit David Ross‘s options in high-leverage situations.
  • Starling Marte was hit by a pitch above the left ear in the final game of the regular season on Sunday but is expected to be available for this series. If he is not in the lineup, look for Miami manager Don Mattingly to use him as a pinch hitter.
  • As mentioned above, this is the first meeting for the Cubs with the Marlins in the postseason since the 2003 NLCS collapse. Longtime fans who do not want to be reminded of this past failure should prepare to mute their televisions and curate their social media timelines.
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