1. Even the Titanic was vulnerable. So the Chicago Cubs have lost four games in a row after the Miami Marlins beat them 3-2 behind two solo home runs off Jon Lester and a run in the eighth off Pedro Strop. The Cubs' projected win total has gone from 114 to 107 with the losing skid, and reaching the season wins record of 116 is becoming increasingly improbable. In fact, if the Cubs finish the first half with 10 wins a row, that gets them to 57-24 -- back to a 114-win pace.
If anything, this shows how remarkable the 2001 Seattle Mariners were when they won those 116 games. They did, however, lose four in a row at one point: In games 147 to 150, they lost to the Angels and then got swept in Oakland (the A's won 102 games that year). Here's an amazing note, though: They hadn't lost three in a row until that four-game skid. Here's Seattle's season broken into 10-game stretches: 7-3, 9-1, 7-3, 8-2, 7-3, 9-1, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, 7-3, 8-2, 7-3, 7-3, 6-4, 6-4, 9-1, 1-1. The Cubs, meanwhile, have already had two stretches of 5-5.
A lot has been said about the Cubs' run differential: It now sits at plus-162, so they've actually underperformed relative to their expected win-loss record (based on runs scored and allowed) by seven wins. That's easily the largest gap in the majors (the Mariners are six below their expected record). Another way to calculate expected record is BaseRuns, which uses bases gained and allowed. In that area, the Cubs had underperformed by just three wins heading into Thursday. What does this mean about projecting the Cubs moving forward? It's hard to say. You can make an argument that the Cubs have been a little unlucky. They're 9-12 in one-run games, so you can argue that they haven't optimally distributed their runs across all their games or maybe there's a certain vulnerability that shows up in close games (which, presumably, are more often against better teams). They're 25-4 in blowout games (decided by five or more runs), an .862 winning percentage. The Mariners went 34-10 in blowout games, a .773 percentage, but went 26-12 in one-run games. The Cubs may end up playing more blowout games because of the lack of parity in the National League this year, and that may skew their run differential over the long haul.
Of course, what's happened so far is in the bank. Run differential doesn't determine the standings -- wins do. If the Cubs have any chance at getting back on a record pace, they have to win these close games. The more likely scenario is they end up battling the San Francisco Giants or Washington Nationals for the league's best record, not chasing down the 2001 Mariners.
"Chill out, Brett. Cubs are still good and have a huge lead and will turn ... " pic.twitter.com/Jl3GA2Q6x7— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) June 24, 2016
2. Marcell Ozuna deserves a shout-out. Have we mentioned Ozuna in this space? No? Then here we go. He's hitting .322/.373/.578, and hit his 16th home run in the Marlins' win. He leads NL outfielders in OPS and is tied for third in WAR. Interestingly, one of those above him is teammate Christian Yelich, who is hitting .311/.399/.481 and has better defensive metrics. Could the Marlins end up with two All-Star outfielders not named Giancarlo Stanton? It's possible.
3. The Boston Red Sox win, and it is exciting. This was one of the best games of the season so far, with the Chicago White Sox going for the improbable four-game sweep at Fenway. The White Sox took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth as James Shields, who had allowed 32 runs in 11 1/3 innings over his previous four starts, was spinning zeroes. Then the clock struck midnight and Shields would last just five-plus innings and give up three runs. The Red Sox took a 5-4 lead, the White Sox came back with three in the seventh, and then Boston tied it with runs in the seventh and eighth. The White Sox went 0-for-7 with the bases loaded (first team to do that since 2009), and the Red Sox finally pushed across the winning run against Matt Purke, on two walks and Xander Bogaerts' walk-off single.
The hidden key: John Farrell used closer Craig Kimbrel for two innings. I don't know why managers don't do this more often with a dominant reliever. A tie score is a much higher leverage situation than a three-run lead, and a pitcher like Kimbrel can pitch two innings on occasion -- yet it was only the third time in his career he recorded more than four outs in a game, and first time since April 21, 2011. In other words, he'd gone more than five years with getting even five outs.
4. M-V-P! M-V-P! Speaking of Bogaerts, we have to take him seriously as an MVP candidate as he continues to rake, now hitting .351/.401/.510 with 50 RBIs while playing solid defense at shortstop. He does have a .396 BABIP -- second in the majors behind Starling Marte's .407 -- so he may regress a bit in the batting average department. But right now he's up there with Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve and Mike Trout in the MVP discussion.
Lots of telling stats with Bogaerts. The best might be that he has not gone consecutive games without a hit since April 17-18-19.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) June 23, 2016
5. Don't use your closer for two innings! On the other hand, the Mariners tried the same trick with Steve Cishek and it backfired in ugly fashion. In his second inning of work, he walked the hard-to-walk Steven Moya with one out, Victor Martinez singled and both runners moved up on a bad throw-in from the outfield, then a wild pitch scored the winning run. Cishek threw 39 pitches, so he is presumably unavailable for Friday, and maybe Saturday. That's why managers are hesitant to use their closer for more than an inning. Still, it was the right move by manager Scott Servais. Starter Adrian Sampson got injured warming up -- it may be just the second no-pitch official start -- so the bullpen was already taxed before getting to Cishek in the ninth. Considering the Mariners already had lost the first three games of the series, they were also desperate for a win.
Also, it's the series that may have turned the Mariners' season for the bad as they fell under .500 and now have a depleted rotation. The Mariners have a larger run differential than the Texas Rangers but are an astonishing 11 games back in the standings. How?
Mariners have lost 9 straight one-run games. Go 2-8 on road trip. First four-game series sweep by Tigers since 1980 (in 27 4-game series).— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) June 23, 2016