The Marlins are preparing to kick off their NLDS against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday. This series is non-conventional for a postseason set in that the best-of-five will play out over 5 consecutive days (and of course, because it’s being played in a playoff bubble at a neutral site during a pandemic).
No days off means there will be less of the starters-in-relief that has come to define many recent postseasons, including last year when Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez used each of Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin out of the bullpen en route to winning the World Series. But there’s still potential for lots of in-series finagling of pitching staffs depending on how the first couple of games play out. For Atlanta, that could mean a bullpen day for game four. Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Kyle Wright will take the hill for the first three games, and odds are they’d bring Fried back on short rest for a potential winner-take-all game five.
The potential to return on short rest for a deciding game five makes the selection of the game one starter all the more important . The Marlins will start Sandy Alcantara in the series opener, followed by Pablo López in game two and rookie phenom Sixto Sánchez in game three, tweets Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald. The Marlins young trio have a real opportunity to add to their pandemic-truncated resumes. Alcantara and López won’t be arbitration eligible until after 2021, so there’s time to build a more comprehensive portfolio before entering the arbitration process. Still, every extra start does help considering the half a season or more lost due to the pandemic. The 25-year-old Alcantara, for example, was only able to make 7 regular season starts because of time spent on the COVID-19 injured list. He added one successful postseason start to that total already, and by starting game one of the NLDS, he could add another pair should the series go the distance.
Sánchez, with just 7 regular season starts to his name, isn’t scheduled to enter arbitration until after the 2023 season. He’ll be pushed back a day after 5 spotless innings against the Cubs in game two of the Wild Card series. Sánchez came out hot against the Cubs, routinely hitting triple-digits in the first couple of innings. His velocity dropped to the 94-to-97 mph range by the fifth inning. A game two start would have put him on track for a regular four days of rest. This way gets the 22-year-old an extra day off after a high-intensity outing at Wrigley Field.
López will take the hill for Wednesday’s game two instead. His last start came all the way back on September 24th. That gives him 12 days off between starts. That last outing also happened to come against these very Braves, one of three times he opposed Freddie Freeman and company during the regular season. The Marlins went 2-1 in those games, though the loss on September 9th was easily López’s roughest (and shortest) outing of the season. He managed just 1 2/3 innings while serving up 4 hits, 4 walks, and 7 earned runs. The 24-year-old went 5 scoreless, striking out 6 while yielding just 2 hits and 2 walks in his final start of the year at Atlanta.
In a vacuum, any of the three would be legitimate options to open the series, but manager Don Mattingly wasn’t troubled by his decision about who to start in game one. Per MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro, Mattingly said, “Obviously, Sandy’s easy. He’s been our guy, kind of our No. 1.”