Atlanta Braves 2021 NL East rivals: how close are the Marlins?

Miami Marlins relief pitcher Yimi Garcia throws against the Atlanta Braves during game three of the 2020 NLDS at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Miami Marlins relief pitcher Yimi Garcia throws against the Atlanta Braves during game three of the 2020 NLDS at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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This is the first in a series to see how the NL East has changed and how those changes may impact the Atlanta Braves in 2021.

Things didn’t play out in the NL East expected in 2020… of course, not much really did, either.  The Marlins were feisty for the duration, though could not best the Atlanta Braves when it came to crunch time.

Miami endured a stretch of 10 games being postponed in the space of 13 scheduled games, and then had to make all of that up — including a seven-game series against the Phillies that was played over just four days (they went 5-2 in the process).

In the end, Miami finished 31-29 on the year and were beaten in six of their last seven contests with Atlanta … the final three losses coming via a convincing postseason sweep.  The Marlins had their chances, but failed to break through.

There have been a number of changes in this organization, though, and they are quietly building a club that might have a chance to make some more noise in 2021.

Atlanta Braves have owned the Marlins in recent years

In particular, the Braves rode a 14-5 season series mark against them in 2019, but times may be a’changin.  First, let’s see what changes have happened since last Fall:

SUBTRACTIONS:

Owing to COVID and other concerns, there have been a lot…

  • Pitcher Jose Urena was designated for assignment and subsequently granted free agency.  At least that ends a seemingly personal battle with Ronald Acuna, Jr.
  • RHP Robert Dugger (claimed by Seattle via waivers)
  • RHP Johan Quezada (claimed by Philadelphia via waivers)
  • LHP Stephen Tarpley (claimed by Mets via waivers)
  • RHP Brandon Kintzler
  • RHP Nick Vincent
  • INF Sean Rodriguez
  • C Francisco Cervelli
  • RHP Brad Boxberger
  • RHP Drew Steckenrider
  • LHP Brian Moran
  • LF Matt Joyce
  • 2B Logan Forsythe
  • SW-Pitcher Pat Venditte (outrighted)
  • RHP Ryne Stanek
  • RHP Jordan Yamamoto traded to Mets for SS Federico Polanco
  • RHP Harold Ramirez designated for assignment
  • P Jeff Brigham placed on 60-day Injured List

ADDITIONS:

  • RHP Zach Pop acquired via trade from Arizona.
  • RHP Adam Cimber acquired via trade from Cleveland
  • P John Curtiss acquired via trade from Tampa Bay for 1B Evan Edwards
  • RHP Dylan Floro acquired via trade from Dodgers for LHP Alex Vesia and RHP Kyle Hurt
  • RHP Anthony Bender
  • LF Adam Duvall
  • RHP Alexander Guillen
  • RHP Zach Thompson
  • RHP Luis Madero
  • OF Andre Arthur
  • RHP Anthony Bass (possible new closer)
  • LHP Ross Detwiler
  • C Brian Navarreto
  • C Sandy Leon
  • SS Eddy Alvarez
  • P Shawn Morimando

CONCERNS:

  • RHP Edward Cabrera — MLB.com 68th-ranked prospect overall — inflamed nerve in biceps.

Marlins in 2020

  • 31-29, second place in the NL East
  • 18th in offensive fWAR
  • 19th in defensive fWAR
  • 21st in total pitching ERA
    • 14th involving starting pitching
    • 26th involving relief pitching (though there was a certain 29-run game that damaged this number significantly)

Key Names

  • Principal Owner:  Bruce Sherman
  • CEO:  Derek Jeter
  • General Manager:  Kim Ng
  • Field Manager:  Don Mattingly
  • Bench Coach:  James Rowson
  • Hitting Coaches:  Eric Duncan, Robert Rodriguez
  • Pitching Coach:  Mel Stottlemyre

Given those performance ranks, it’s a fair question to ask… how did they manage to make the playoffs?  The answer is a combination of ‘smoke and mirrors’ plus an uncanny ability to cobble together a lineup that worked well enough despite their COVID-related issues.

Also:  their starting pitching was enough to keep them in most games.  When they lost, they lost big:  on 13 occasions, they were blown out by 5 runs or more.  They likewise won eleven 1-run ball games and four others by just 2 runs.  That’ll be a 2021 theme as well.

On the flip side, Miami lost eight 1-run games and four more by a margin of two.  The key distinction for a lot of those contests typically can be resolved via either clutch hitting or great bullpen…. neither of which the Marlins really had in 2020.

Moving to 2021

As you can see, there have been a wholesale list of changes, with pitching involved in many cases.  At the same time, the Marlins are being about as frugal as they often are.

The changes that might have the most impact can be narrowed to the following new arrivals:

  • Adam Duvall for his power
  • Ross Detwiler for his experience in the ‘pen
  • Likewise for Dylan Floro
  • Anthony Bass as closer-elect

That’s not a big difference, but in context, the additions should improve this club a bit.

Duvall adds to an outfield that was slated to include Garrett Cooper, Corey Dickerson, and Starling Marte.  Barring a late designated hitter upgrade, someone will be the odd man out and that’s a hard call between the three.  Regardless:  there’s a bench upgrade for the Fish.

The infield should be slugger Jesus Aguilar, Jazz Chisholm, Miguel Rojas, and Brian Anderson — Anderson potentially being the best hitter on the club as well as a top defender at third.

Their rotation is looking like Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez, and Sixto Sanchez with a competition ensuing for the final spot (or two, depending on Sanchez this Spring).

The takeaway here is that the Marlins could have three or four starters with ERAs under 4… and that will keep them in a bunch of games this year.  The big question is whether their bullpen changes have been sufficient to support their starters.

Outlook for Miami

This is a club that isn’t ready to jump all in, but they are making some strategic moves with an eye toward being perhaps a bit more than just “competitive” in 2021.

They clearly will face an uphill battle against the like of the Mets, Braves, and Nationals while they will also have to face the AL East in inter-league games (the two divisions play one another again this year).

That may wear down a young staff, particularly if they don’t get a lot of offensive support.

Then there’s the improvements coming from the rest of this division, most of which are better — man for man — than anything Miami has done.

PROJECTIONS:

dark. Next. It's Jake - now from the Braves Farm

The 2021 Marlins will be scrappy and feisty, but it’s hard to predict much more from them beyond a 72-90 or 73-89 record while in a battle to determine who finishes last in the NL East.

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