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Reminder: The Cubs lost four out of seven games many, many times in 2016.

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There is still a lot of baseball to be played in the NLCS, but the Dodgers 2-1 lead over the Cubs — with Clayton Kershaw guaranteed another appearance —  is causing some people to scratch their heads and wonder if it’s possible for the best team in baseball to actually lose this series.

If they do lose it, some people will claim it as the doing of a curse of some sort. Others will claim the Cubs choked or that the Dodgers had a greater Will to Win or that This Brand New Baseball Philosophy or Strategy Has Now Been Proven To Be Best. Go back and look at any number of stories at the end of a playoff series and you’ll see people attempting to tie it all together in some grand unifying theory, ranging from one manager’s superior temperament, one club’s superior chemistry or another club’s strategic approach which allegedly upends all we thought we knew about baseball before that point. Happens every year.

Any explanation that reduces a playoff series loss to something other than “in this particular set of seven games the winning club did baseball things better than the other club did baseball things,” however, is silly. It’s silly because great baseball teams lose four out of seven games fairly often. Indeed, even the best team in baseball in 2016 — the 103-win Chicago Cubs — did it seven times this season:

  • May 11-17: Lost four of six games to the Padres, Pirates and Brewers with five of the six games being at home;
  • May 19-23: Lost four of five to the Brewers, Giants and Cardinals;
  • June 20-23: Lost four in a row to the Cardinals and Marlins, with three of four at home;
  • June 30-July 3: Lost four in a row to the Mets;
  • July 5-July 9: Lost five in a row to the Reds, Braves and Pirates, three of five at home;
  • September 3-September 10: Lost four of seven to the Giants, Brewers and Astros;
  • September 13-September 18: Lost four of six to the Cardinals and Brewers, four of six at home.

Yep. The most dominant team in the league was beaten in a seven game “series” more often than once a month. Three times when they had the home field advantage in that swath of seven games. Often those loses were at the hands of some pretty pedestrian teams. No one drew deep meaning from any of those individual “series” losses. At most they were chalked up to cold bats, hot opponents, mistakes, injuries or just generally bad nights. You know, the tangible things that directly impact baseball games as they wash over us during a long baseball season.

The reason why a team loses any one game is pretty straightforward: they didn’t hit enough or they didn’t pitch well enough or they committed too many errors. Stuff like that. The reason why a team loses any best-of-seven series is often attributable to multiple failures on the part of the losing team and successes on the part of the winners, but it’s still basically the same deal: one team played better than the other, more often, over the course of 5-9 days.

I don’t know what will happen in the rest of the NLCS. But I do know this much: if the Cubs rally from being down 2-1 to win it, their victory will be attributed to something other than “they played better baseball than the Dodgers four out of [six or seven] times.” Likewise, if they lose it, the loss will be chalked up to some other overarching factor. In either case, that explanation will, by shocking coincidence, fit into a tidy 800-word narrative. When that happens, enjoy the narrative if the prose is good. Someone skilled at writing it put a lot of hard work into it and good prose is its own reward.

But know that the inherent and, at this time of year, only slightly-weighted randomness of baseball is the real factor behind any series win or loss. And that that is exacerbated by the fact that, at best, a seven-game sample of randomness is being run. Everything else is just words.

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

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NEW YORK (AP) Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost four of five following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.