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2021 NL East preview: The Miami Marlins

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The Miami Marlins ended 2020 in the MLB playoffs. Can they expect to do the same in 2021?

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The 2020 season was a good one for the Miami Marlins. It was also quite surprising to the rest of the baseball world. The team that went 57-105 one year prior, finished 31-29 in the shortened season, earning a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

Many of the young prospects the Marlins have been stockpiling were the reason. Names like Sixto Sanchez, Trevor Rogers and Brian Anderson led the way. Don Mattingly is back at the helm after a Manager of the Year campaign in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins have no love lost over the past few seasons. As the loaded NL East becomes the most competitive division in MLB, their love for each other — or lack thereof — should only become stronger in 2021.

The Miami Marlins projected lineup

The Marlins have some intriguing depth in their lineup, especially with the addition of Adam Duvall. They have their fair share of sluggers, but with no universal DH on the table just yet, it will provide a challenge to Mattingly to get them all in the lineup.

C - Jorge Alfaro

1B - Garrett Cooper

2B - Jon Berti

SS - Miguel Rojas

3B - Brian Anderson

RF - Adam Duvall

CF - Starling Marte

LF - Corey Dickerson

Let’s start with the no-brainers, because there are plenty of question marks in the lineup. Brian Anderson continues to be a steady presence in the heart of the lineup, posting his second-straight season with an OPS over .800. Dickerson and Marte return to anchor the outfield. The Marlins traded for Marte last year and will settle in as the centerfielder for his first full season in Miami as a legitimate threat to hit 20 home runs and swipe 20 bags while hitting .300.

Right field and first base become an intriguing spot. Duvall enters the mix and should take over right field after posting two very solid seasons in limited time for the Braves in ‘19 and ‘20. The question is how to get Duvall, Cooper and Jesus Aguilar into the lineup everyday, all of which deliver serious pop. Cooper, who has played right field in the past, will battle Aguilar for the first base job, a position the two shared along with DH last season. Now, with no universal DH, one of the Marlins best power options will find themselves on the bench. It just becomes a matter of which one.

The Marlins should see what Jorge Alfaro can do as the everyday starter. His 2020 stat line, but it was an odd year for him. He missed much of spring training and was one of the 18 Marlins to miss significant time with coronavirus. His ‘19 are much more indicative of the player he is. Non-roster invite Sandy Leon is an interesting signing, and could add even more veteran wisdom should he survive camp.

Another question mark is how quickly Jazz Chisholm takes over full-time... and where it will be. Chisholm is regarded as a top-100 prospect and played both second base and shortstop last season. Ideally, Chisholm is the Marlins shortstop of the future — a spot Rojas is in no rush to cede after a year in which he hit .304 with an .888 OPS. Do the Marlins start the season with Chisholm at second, or let him get more reps at short in Triple-A?

Isan Diaz, who opted out and then didn’t in 2020, is also an option at second base. A one-time prospect with lofty expectations, Diaz hasn’t delivered in a very small sample size at the big-league level. Still, he’ll be just 24 on Opening Day and is clearly an option. With all the young pitching the Marlins have, they may decide to go with Rojas and super-utility man Berti to give them a veteran double-play combo.

So, the Marlins don’t have a problem in depth. The bench should be fine. It’s figuring out the best lineup that will be tricky.

The Marlins young rotation

The Marlins rotation delivered in 2020. And of the six pitchers who started six or more games last year, nary a one was over the age of 25.

Pablo Lopez had his best season in the bigs last year, going 6-4 with a 3.61 ERA with 9.3 strikeouts-per-nine. He’ll pair atop the rotation with Sandy Alacantara who also flashed his best stuff last year, finishing with a 3-2 record, 3.00 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Sixto Sánchez, the Marlins top prospect, did just fine in his big-league debut last year as well, going 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA and a strong start in his first-ever playoff game, pitching the Marlins to victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Those three are seemingly locks for the rotation. The Marlins have some options for the back of the rotation to decide upon. Twenty-five-year-old Elieser Hernandez looked like a solid option last season after posting a 3.89 FIP and an 11.9 strikeout-per-nine rate, far superior than anything he accomplished in his first two seasons. Prospect Trevor Rogers made his MLB debut last year and struggled, but he also has never thrown a pitch in Triple-A. It is very possible he starts the season there to get as many reps as possible before returning to The Show. Daniel Castano, who made six starts last season, could be in the mix as well. One of the Marlins top prospects, Nick Neidert, is also a very strong candidate for the rotation.

The Marlins are certainly not short of options.

Anthony Bass gives the Marlins bullpen a boost

Guess what? After a busy offseason restocking the pen, the Marlins now have very intriguing options at the back of the bullpen. Bass comes over from the Blue Jays after leading the team with seven saves a year ago. Dylan Floro comes over from the Dodgers after posting a very solid season for the world champs. John Curtiss joins the Marlins’ pen after facing off against Floro with the Rays last season, and posting an impressive 3-0 record with a 1.80 ERA. Yimi Garcia returns to the Marlins after a monster 2020 campaign in which he went 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA to give the team plenty of options to turn to in the late innings.

Got all that?

But wait, there’s more. Ross Detwiler comes to the Marlins, making them the third NL East team he’s played for in his career. He’ll give that young starting rotation a fall back option in long relief and has experience starting should they need it. Adam Cimber joins the team after two steady seasons for the Indians.

The Marlins bullpen is hardly recognizable for the previous rendition, so it will be interesting to see how they mesh early on and how Mattingly deploys the weapons at hand.

Help on the way: The Marlins farm

Much of the youth the Marlins have been amassing made their debuts last season. For some it was brief, while others shined.

Braxton Garrett made his debut last year, but I don’t expect the 2016 first-rounder to start the season in Miami. Jesus Sanchez, once one of the Tampa Bay Rays top prospects, also made a brief — and painful — debut, but with the overcrowded outfield as it is, he’s likely to be in Triple-A to start the season as well. These could be two names you hear early on getting the call.

Two names that didn’t play in 2020 that we hopefully see this year are JJ Bleday and Edward Cabrera. Bleday had a stellar career at Vanderbilt and the left-handed slugger is the Marlins top offensive prospect. Edward Cabrera dealt with injury last season or likely would have been another young pitcher in the Marlins mix. Expect to see the young righty at some point after dominant 2018-19 seasons in the minors.

Marlins 2021 prediction: The Marlins were the surprise story of the 2020 season, but this year could be very different. The young pitching is their strength, and we will see how it can hold up over a full season. The improvements to the bullpen should keep them in games, as should a lineup that can actually play Major League baseball now.

Still, the NL East is loaded with, on paper, two of the best teams in baseball in the Mets and the Braves. A healthy Phillies team can make a lot of noise and the Nationals shouldn’t be as bad as last year. That’s some stiff competition the Marlins will face day in and day out.

2021 prediction: 81-81. That likely puts the Marlins in fourth place in the NL East, but possibly the cellar.