In addition to the poise and execution that marked his outing, Sanchez also flashed a decided change in approach. During the regular season, Sanchez boasted a 3.00 ERA with an identical strikeout-to-walk ratio in seven starts. Those numbers were dragged down by his final two starts of the season, when he allowed a total of nine run in seven innings. In each of those starts, Sanchez threw his slider and changeup combined more often than his fire-breathing fastball, which this season averaged 98.9 mph. In Game 2, though, he “let it eat,” in baseball parlance. Against the Cubs on Friday, Sanchez went to his four-seam fastball 66 times out of 89 total pitches (with seven of them topping 100 mph). High-level mathematicians will note that comes to 74.2 percent. His previous high for fastball usage in a start was 37.9 percent in his MLB debut. There’s a low-grade trend right now for some pitchers to emphasize what they do best at the expense of secondary offerings. Sanchez certainly did that in Game 2, and as a consequence he had his first scoreless trip to the bump in almost a month. Sanchez has been touching the high 90s with his fastball since he was 18 and in the Phillies system — recall that the Marlins got him as the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto trade of February 2019 — and it’s always shown impressive late life. Add to this his command, a plus changeup that helped him run reverse platoon splits this season, and Sanchez’s lower-half dominant delivery that may limit arm strain, and it’s easy to see why he’s got such a high ceiling. CHICAGO — If you weren’t already familiar with the craftsmanship of 22-year-old Miami Marlins right-hander Sixto Sanchez, then perhaps his five essential scoreless innings against the Cubs on Friday will center him in your baseball consciousness. The unlikely Marlins became a bit more likely with the 2-0 win over the Cubs in Wrigley Field, and with the win Miami completes the two-game sweep of the Wild Card Series and advances to face the divisional rival Braves in the NLDS. In the fifth, Sanchez bookended back-to-back line drive singles with a fly out and strikeout. After he walked Contreras to load the bases, the Marlins made their second mound visit of the day, except it was once again pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and not manager Don Mattingly trundling out of the dugout. At that point, Sanchez was at 84 pitches. While that’s not a high count, he was taking significantly longer between pitches, which can be a sign of fatigue. As well, his ability to locate had begun to erode. Despite those warning signs and despite the presence of rested bullpen — Game 1 starter Sandy Alcantara gave them 6 2/3 innings, and Thursday was an off day because of the rainout — Mattingly stuck with his rookie. The high-risk decision paid off, as Sanchez got Kyle Schwarber to lift a changeup outside the zone for a fly-out to left. Sanchez was dominant in the early frames. Through the first three innings, he registered nine swinging strikes but just two hard-hit balls. The Cubs worked counts better in the third, which fed into the threats they mounted in the fourth and fifth. To start the fourth, Sanchez issued his only two walks of the game, but he was able to escape. He got Kris Bryant out on a non-scalding liner, and then Willson Contreras managed to get thrown out at home from second base on a Jason Heyward single to right that left the bat at just 70 miles per hour. Javy Baez flew out to end it. One of the Game 2 stories will no doubt be Garrett Cooper’s clutch home run off a Yu Darvish slider that broke a scoreless tie in the seventh. The other, arguably larger story will be the rookie Sanchez’s work on the mound: Of note:
After Game 2, Cubs manager David Ross complimented Sanchez’s poise, particularly considering it was his first ever playoff start. “That’s not something you see all the time with young players,” Ross said, “especially young pitchers.”For now, though, the Marlins may have a present ace, not just a future one — who’s fully realized enough to pitch them further than anyone outside Miami thought they could go.