HOUSTON — The Miami Marlins have been the biggest surprise of the postseason so far.
They say they aren't done, either.
In the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the Marlins swept the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card round and open their best-of-five series against NL East rival Atlanta on Tuesday in Houston.
"We fully understand how good they are, and we have respect for them," Miami manager Don Mattingly said. "But we think we can beat anybody, quite honestly. We're as good as anybody."
The Marlins, losers of 105 games in 2019, have brought a youthful exuberance to the playoffs that has both surprised and delighted people around the league.
Even Braves star first baseman Freddie Freeman has enjoyed watching the Marlins rise from one of the league's worst teams over the past few years to one of the last eight standing this season.
"I just see a passion and them having a joy for the game and things get crazy," Freeman said. "People are hitting homers. People are throwing 100. You never know what's going to happen. No one's surprised to see those Marlins on the other side."
The Marlins have fully embraced their underdog role and even had T-shirts made with the words "Bottom Feeders" after Phillies broadcaster Ricky Bottalico called them that early this season.
"He fired up the wrong people I'll tell you that and we're going to run with that," Miami rookie outfielder Monte Harrison said. "So, if you want to talk trash on us, talk trash on us. It's perfectly fine. The Cubs did the exact same thing, look at where we at now."
The Marlins are a perfect 7-0 in postseason series and won the World Series in 1997 and 2003.
While the Marlins have exceeded expectations, the Braves are trying to live up to theirs. Winners of the NL East, Atlanta ended a streak of 10 consecutive losses in postseason rounds by shutting out the Reds in a two-game sweep in the wild card round for their first playoff series win since 2001.
The Braves also won their division in 2018 and 2019 before falling in the NLDS.
"We want to move on past the NLDS," Freeman said. "We won a series but it's still just the Division Series. So, we've got some work to do. And we have chips on our shoulders from the last couple of years."
Atlanta is looking for a big series from Freeman this year after he was hampered by a nagging elbow injury in the playoffs in 2019.
"He was hurt, there's no doubt about it," manager Brian Snitker said. "That guy laid it out there for us. I know it wasn't fun for him. It was bothering him."
He's healthy now despite getting a slow start to the season after a bout with COVID-19. He's an NL MVP candidate after hitting .341 with 13 homers, 53 RBIs and a NL-leading 23 doubles.
He's also invaluable to the team as one of its veteran leaders in his 11th season with the Braves.
"He is some kind of special for all of us," Snitker said. "Probably me more than most."
Miami's Sandy Alcantara opposes Braves left-hander Max Fried in the series opener on Tuesday. Alcantara allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings of the team's Game 1 win over the Cubs. Fried was also solid in his playoff work, throwing seven scoreless innings in Atlanta's Game 1 shutout of the Reds.
Alcantara was asked about being friendly with some of the Braves, and he acknowledged that he was, but said he won't be thinking about any of that on Tuesday.
"I don't care if I face my brother, my dad. I don't care. I just want to strike out everybody," he said. "Do my job get on the mound and be consistent."
On Wednesday, Mattingly will send Pablo Lopez out for his first playoff start. He went with Lopez in Game 2 and star rookie Sixto Sanchez in Game 3 since Lopez hasn't pitched since Sept. 24. Sanchez pitched Game 2 against Chicago.
"Giving Sixto an extra day was a lot better than giving Pablo extra time," Mattingly said. "So, we tried to get Pablo out there a little quicker."
Ian Anderson will start Game 2 for the Braves and Kyle Wright gets the start in the third game.