The World Series is here, and once again, the Miami Marlins will be watching from home. The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals begin the best-of-7 series Tuesday at Minute Maid Park. First pitch is set for 8 p.m.
The Marlins, in the second year of the franchise’s latest rebuild under the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter ownership group, hope to be back in contention — and remain in contention — for a World Series sooner rather than later. That’s why they orchestrated this rebuild. That’s why they are infusing talent from the ground up.
They want to, as president of baseball operations Michael Hill has said numerous times, “have a sustainable product and year in and year out we want to compete for championships”
But that dream — at least — a few years for a team that went 57-105.
The farm system has improved from one of the worst in baseball to one of the best. Those high-ranked prospects that Jeter and Co. brought in are getting closer to making their MLB debuts.
In the meantime, here’s what the Marlins can learn from the last two teams standing in the 2019 season.
Starting pitching is key
One of the common threads to both the Nationals’ and Astros’ success this year: Their starting rotations are littered with talent.
The Astros have rolled with a starters Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke throughout the postseason. The Nationals, meanwhile, have Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and former Marlin Anibal Sanchez at their disposal.
These seven have combined for 29 All-Star nominations, five Cy Young Awards and six no-hitters during their careers.
Even in the year of the home run, pitching is still the determining factor.
The Marlins made finding and acquiring starting pitching talent a focal point at the start of their rebuild, and it is beginning to showcase itself.
Sandy Alcantara, acquired in the Marcell Ozuna trade, has emerged as the favorite to be the club’s Opening Day starter in 2020.
Sixto Sanchez, the club’s top prospect who was obtained in the J.T. Realmuto trade, is likely to make his debut at some point in 2020. As is Nick Neidert, who came in from the Dee Gordon trade. As is Edward Cabrera, who made a jump in progression this season.
A full-blown rebuild is possible
The year was 2013. The Astros had the lowest payroll in MLB, few veterans on its roster and barely averaged 10,000 fans per game on its way to losing a franchise-record 111 games — their third consecutive 100-loss season.
Sound familiar, Marlins fans?
Miami is now hoping what happened next for the Astros will soon take place in South Florida.
After one more struggling year in 2014 (70-92), the Astros made the playoffs in 2015, won the World Series in 2017 and are going for their second title in three years. Houston has won at least 100 games each of the past three years.
It’s a model that takes inherent risk — trading trusty veterans to load up a weakened minor-league system with high-end prospects who may or may not pan out in the long run.
But when you’re in no-man’s land, it’s a risk worth taking.
It paid off for the Astros. Will it do the same for the Marlins?
The Nationals are the oldest team in MLB this year, with an average age of 30.1 years old. The Astros, with an average age of 29.8 years, are third in the league.
For that matter, six of the seven oldest teams and nine of the top 12 reached the playoffs this year.
The conclusion to draw from this: Experience plays a factor.
The Nationals were 19-31 through 50 games this year as the Marlins came to town for a four-game series in late May.
Miami was on a six-game win streak after sweeping the New York Mets at home and Detroit Tigers on the road.
The Nationals won three of four games, outscoring the Marlins 28-19. It was the start of a 74-38 close to the season for Washington, a strong enough run to earn a wild card spot.
And the Nationals never stopped once they made it in.
A 1-0 win over the Brewers in the wild card game.
A 3-2 series win over the top-seeded Los Angeles Dodgers.
A 4-0 sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
And now, their first World Series appearance.
The coincidence in all of this: The Florida Marlins started the 2003 season with a 19-29 record. They went 72-42 the rest of the way to earn a wild card spot.
The rest is history.
World Series schedule
Game 1: 8 p.m. Tuesday at Minute Maid Park
Game 2: 8 p.m. Wednesday at Minute Maid Park
Game 3: 8 p.m. Friday at Nationals Park
Game 4: 8 p.m. Saturday at Nationals Park
Game 5 (if necessary): 8 p.m. Sunday at Nationals Park
Game 6 (if necessary): 8 p.m. Oct. 29 at Minute Maid Park
Game 7 (if necessary): 8 p.m. Oct. 30 at Minute Maid Park.