The youthful Chicago Cubs ran into a buzz saw this weekend, as the grizzled and experienced St. Louis Cardinals overpowered them with their know-how and grit and whatever other things you need to say to yourself to move on.
In reality, what happened this past weekend was a probably pretty good team faced a definitely very good team for three games, and the latter team won all three. Some of that was good fortune, a lot of it was true talent differential, and some of it was just baseball.
That said, to whatever you attribute the losses in St. Louis (and the two against the Dodgers in Chicago that preceded them), the situation for the Cubs has irrevocably changed in the NL Central race. To wit, the Cubs are now down 11.5 games (a sweep in the other direction and it would have been just 5.5 games), and their divisional odds look grim.
As of this morning, BP has the Cubs’ odds of winning the NL Central at just 5.2 percent, which actually feels rather optimistic.
Consider: Even if the Cardinals play merely .500 ball the rest of the way, they’ll finish the year with 95 wins (rounded up for Voodoo Magic). So great is their 51-24 record advantage right now.
For the Cubs (39-35) to win 96 games and topple the Cardinals in that scenario, they’d have to go 57-31 over their final 88 games. That’s a .648 clip over more than half of a season. It’s not impossible—the Cardinals have played .680 ball for 75 games this year—but it’s incredibly onerous.
And, again: that’s if the Cardinals play at merely .500 for the rest of the season, something I doubt too many would bet on. Indeed, PECOTA projects the Cardinals to go 45-42 over their remaining 87 games. In that case, the Cubs would need to win 58 games the rest of the way, or a .659 clip.
All is not lost, however, even if you rule the Cubs out of the NL Central race ….