I’m not trying to convince Miami Marlins fans to root for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series. On the contrary, it’s natural to be envious of the D-backs making it this far. They got what was generally considered the “easier path” through the 2023 National League postseason field. Moreover, their pitching staff is headlined by former Marlin Zac Gallen, who takes the mound for Arizona in Game 1.
It’s nonetheless fascinating to draw parallels between the latest NL pennant winner and the one that brought South Florida its latest World Series title 20 years ago. Here’s what they have in common…
- Closely removed from non-competitiveness—Citing financial issues, the Marlins notoriously ripped apart their roster on the heels of winning the 1997 championship. They plummeted from 92 victories to 54 in 1998, a .333 winning percentage which still stands as the worst single-season mark in franchise history. However, some of the prospects acquired via their fire sale became key contributors to the 2003 squad, and tanking in ’98 earned them the second overall MLB Draft pick in 1999, which was used to select eventual postseason hero Josh Beckett. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks are only two years removed from a 52-110 record. The vast majority of their roster has turned over since then thanks to outstanding player development, augmented by some aggressive trades.
- Projected for mediocrity—According to SportsOddsHistory.com, oddsmakers set the Marlins’ win total prop at over/under 74.5 entering the 2003 season. The D-backs faced nearly as much skepticism (over/under 75.5). FanGraphs initially gave them about a 15% shot to make the postseason and barely a 1-in-100 chance of reaching the Fall Classic.
- Quirky home ballpark—”Quirky” is putting it politely. During their ’03 run, the Marlins were tenants of the football stadium with an ever-changing name (known as Pro Player Stadium at the time). It wasn’t long after hoisting the trophy that they began loudly campaigning for a venue to call their own. Arizona’s Chase Field is a glorified airplane hangar. More than a quarter-century into the franchise’s existence, it’s overdue for renovations. Those would have been completed by now if ownership were willing to pay for it rather than holding out for public assistance.
- Veteran closer added at trade deadline—Neither of these teams were the best versions of themselves by midseason. The D-backs in particular spent July in a free fall and needed to shake things up come deadline time. Ugueth Urbina solidified the back end of the Marlins’ bullpen, though they had to part with a three-player package, headlined by future perennial All-Star Adrián González. Paul Sewald likewise forced Arizona to ship three guys out of town. He’s done everything possible to justify the cost of acquisition, putting up zeroes throughout the postseason. The D-backs have won 25 of the last 26 games that Sewald has appeared in (regular season and postseason combined).
- Snuck into postseason as lowest NL seed—The Marlins were the NL Wild Card team back in the days when each league had only one. In 2023, postseason seeding was still undecided entering the season finale, but a Diamondbacks loss locked them into the third Wild Card spot and sixth overall seed in the Senior Circuit. Major League Baseball has made tweaks to the postseason format through the years to minimize the amount of rest and number of home games that low-seeded teams receive. What they’re finding out is this sport will always be unpredictable in tiny sample sizes.
- Trailed 3-2 in NLCS and had to clinch on the road—Both of these underdogs seemingly ran out of gas at the same stage of the postseason. Facing elimination, they had to go into raucous road environments and win a game, then they had to do it all over again the next night. Fun while it lasted, right? The Marlins improbably prevailed with their bats, scoring 17 runs off the Chicago Cubs over the final 11 innings of their series. The Diamondbacks relied on their arms and gloves to limit the Phillies offense to three total runs in NLCS Game 6 and Game 7.
- Small national footprint—Although Miami and Phoenix are surrounded by massive metro areas, they behave like small-market franchises. Most of their ballparks seats are empty throughout the summer. They’re in the news far more often for losing stars than adding them. Their front offices run on modest budgets that make it difficult to contend for the postseason consistently. As a result, casual MLB fans lack familiarity with them and would prefer to see them sent home in favor of sexier brands. Just like the Fish two decades earlier—to the dismay of many—the Snakes remain very much alive.
- Ken Kendrick kinda looks like Jeffrey Loria—This is not a joke about how “all old, white owners look alike.” Seriously, quite a resemblance, don’t you think?
The 2023 World Series between the D-backs and Texas Rangers gets underway on Friday at 8:03 p.m. ET.
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