The Chicago Cubs have now won four in a row, and seven of their last nine. I’d like to say some things about that, in no particular order:
- It’s fun. Whether the Cubs are actually playing as well as they have in years, or if they’re getting lucky bounces, or whatever … it doesn’t really matter to me right now. I’m enjoying watching Cubs baseball as a whole – rather than just individual stories – in late August for the first time in five years. There were always reasons to be interested in August and September, but feeling like you were seeing good, winning baseball hasn’t been one of those reasons in a long time.
- And, let’s be honest, generally speaking, you don’t win a lot of games without a lot of talent. The more the Cubs win – whenever it happens – the better it speaks of the talent on the field. So, although I know it seems axiomatic, it’s worth stating explicitly: the more the Cubs win, the better you can feel about their chances to win more in the future.
- Adding to the immediacy of the fun is the idea that we’re seeing a Cubs team turning a corner, and doing the winning with a group of guys who actually figure into the future. This isn’t a flash-in-the-pan winning streak built upon impending free agents and roster filler. The Cubs are winning with guys who might soon really matter. And, hell, with Jorge Soler joining the mix today, the Cubs might even improve a little bit from here in 2014.
- Am I “worried” about the impact of the winning? You know, I think that’s actually a fairly complex and layered question that folks are giving short shrift. Yes, at the highest layer, having a group of young guys playing so well that they keep winning games is a very, very good thing. The most important thing. So I think I can honestly say, in my heart, that trumps the other stuff. But the other stuff still exists. Notably: (1) the Cubs aren’t making the playoffs, and (2) the Cubs are at risk for rising out of the bottom ten teams.
- If the Cubs do rise out of the bottom ten teams, they will not have a protected first round draft pick heading into 2015. Worse, the pick they do have in that scenario would likely be one of the most painful picks you can possibly lose (12th/13th/14th) when signing a qualified free agent (for background on what this protected/qualifying/etc. stuff means, see here). If that happens, I don’t see the Cubs realistically in on any qualified free agents. Fortunately, that group can’t include Jon Lester, who was traded midseason (and to whom the Cubs have been repeatedly connected), but it’s conceivable that there are other interesting guys the Cubs would like to pursue who will be qualified. Keep this in mind: even if Lester is the guy the Cubs want, wouldn’t it be nice to also be able to realistically pursue, for example, Max Scherzer and James Shields? Long story short: the winning is a good thing, and I can’t help but feel positive about it (and root for more), but my eye is closely affixed to the standings. I don’t so much care about where the Cubs pick next year (vis a vis wins and losses this year), but I do care about them having a protected pick. In such an important offseason, I’d like to see the Cubs have as much flexibility as possible.
- So, at 59-72 (.450), where do things stand for the Cubs? They are ahead of the Rangers (.389), Rockies (.405), Diamondbacks (.417), Astros (.421), Red Sox (.439), and Twins (.443). They are tied with the White Sox, and just barely behind the Phillies (.455), Padres (.466), Mets (.470), and Reds (.477). A path to following out of protected pick status is both available and realistic. Even going .500 from here on out could do the trick.
- Speaking of going .500: You can go as far back as May 15, and, since then, the Cubs are a .500 team. I truly believe that this team is probably better than the 7th worst team in baseball.
- Indeed, take a look at Baseball Prospectus’s adjusted standings. Given their underlying performance – and expected W/L and expected RS/RA totals – the Cubs have been the second unluckiest team in baseball, behind only the Rays. If the Cubs’ record matched their underlying performance, they’d have seven more wins, and would stand at 66-65. A freaking game OVER .500, and on the cusp of the second Wild Card. I’ll excuse you while you go punch a wall.
- FanGraphs’ Base Runs method of calculating expected record also had the Cubs at 65-65, prior to last night’s game (which they won).
- Random anecdote about the state of things: remember the cake? The mural? The unveiling of Clark? Remember how long those damn flaps lasted in the news cycle before folks finally got tired of them? Well, did you see how relatively quickly the tarp malfunction (a much more significant thing) cycled out of discussion (briefly revived by the specious Obamacare connection, but that, too, faded quickly)? There are too many positive things to say about the Cubs right now for folks to linger on the stupid BS. It’s nice, and it’s another signal that the general feeling of positivity surrounding this organization is taking hold.