Today is September 11, 2012, and the Chicago Cubs are 55-86. They are fifth in the NL Central, ahead of only the Astros, who are 44-97. More importantly, the Cubs are currently the second-worst team in baseball, ahead of only those same Astros.
While “catching” the Astros in the reverse standings is no longer a reasonable possibility, holding onto the second worst record certainly is. We could debate the merits of finishing second to worst versus winning a few more games in September of a losing season, but I’ve previously laid out my thoughts in an extensive post (The Upside of Awful - which was sadly relevant all the way back in May). The short version is this: I hate seeing the Cubs lose on a day-by-day basis, but if the Cubs aren’t going to make the playoffs anyway (and, indeed, are going to have one of the worst records in baseball), I’d rather they end up with a terrible record, rather than a merely bad one. For the purposes of this post, I’m taking no position – “just the facts, ma’am.”
The Cubs are currently 2.5 games worse than the Rockies, and 4 games worse than the Indians and Twins. The next teams down the list – the Marlins, Red Sox (tank much?), and Royals are all 7.5/8 games better than the Cubs, which would be a very difficult “deficit” to make up in just 21 games. Thus, it seems likely that the lowest the Cubs could fall in the 2013 Draft at this point is fifth.
The “problem,” as it were, for the Cubs, however, is that they face the woeful Astros five more times in those 21 games, the Rockies three times, and the no-longer-in-contention Diamondbacks three times. Their other nine games come against the Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals. The Rockies’ schedule is slightly more difficult than the Cubs’, though they do face the Cubs (how big is that series?), and the Diamondbacks twice. Similarly, the Indians have a tough schedule (facing only the Twins and Royals as non-contenders). Finally, the Twins have a schedule similar to the Cubs’, with the Indians, Royals and Blue Jays on tap.
On the balance, the schedules are sufficiently similar that the Cubs have a good shot of holding onto that number two pick, assuming they don’t sweep the Rockies next week. Even if the Cubs take four of five from the Astros, and split their remaining 16 games, they’d finish with 95 losses. The Rockies would still have to lose 13 of their last 22 to pass the Cubs. The Indians and/or Twins would have to lose 14 of 21. Certainly possible, but not a cinch – and it’s hard to see the Cubs winning that many anyway.
As for the dreaded 100 losses, the Cubs will have to win eight of their last 21 to avoid the ignominious mark. The Cubs have topped 100 losses just twice before, in 1962 and 1966. The Cubs lost 103 games each of those seasons, so, yes, the franchise mark for losing is theoretically reachable. If the Cubs lose 17 of their last 21, they’ll tie the record. Obviously 18 losses would break it. That sweep of the Pirates was huge.
At their current winning percentage – .390 – the Cubs are expected to win a hair over eight games the rest of the way, making their expected final record 63-99.