If you’ve ever poked around FanGraphs to see just where the Cubs’ chances of reaching the postseason lie, you’re bound to come across two related pages.
The first is the projected standings page. This page reflects what FanGraphs calls “true-talent” projections.
The second is the playoff odds page. While this page looks like it’s telling the same story, there are some notable differences. And those differences, for the most part, can be explained by the strength of each team’s division, as well as the varying strengths of schedule every team in MLB faces.
To be sure, MLB’s 162-game season eliminates many of the common “strength of schedule” issues other sports face, but there is a non-zero element to them. Which is why it’s important to be aware of your favorite teams’ relative opponent difficulty heading into the season.
To that end, Jeff Sullivan has returned (right on time) with his annual projected strength of schedule post for 2017, and the Cubs … fare quite well! (Of course, not having to play yourself (when yourself is one of the best teams in baseball) is quite handy.)
Overall, the Chicago Cubs should gain about two extra wins over the course of the season thanks to their schedule, which ranks third easiest overall behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians. But to be clear, the difference between the those three teams at the top is less than half a win, so they’re essentially all pretty equal.
In the National League, the Dodgers and Cubs are the only two teams to gain two or more wins thanks to their schedule. Following them, the Giants, Nationals, and Mets are the only three teams to gain at least one extra win. While the Cardinals, Pirates, D-Backs, and Rockies all figure to wind up positive, they are just barely so. That leaves the Marlins (neutral), Padres, Braves, Brewers, Phillies, and Reds as the only teams in the NL not to benefit from their schedule.
In the American League, however, there’s a much greater disparity. The Indians (nearly 2.5) are the only team that figure to gain at least one extra win, with the Tigers coming in second with just over a half-win extra. The Twins, then, are the only other team with a positive outlook based on schedule. The Royals appear to be neutral, but every other team comes out on the negative end of things.
If the relatively low differences between the various teams does little to excite you, you’re reading this correctly. Strength of schedule just isn’t too advantageous in MLB, especially for the big boys. “This is all somewhat boring,” Sullivan writes, “the better teams are on the left, and the worse teams are on the right, because the worse teams have to play the better teams, and the better teams don’t have to play themselves. Any intrigue, again, involves the wild-card hopefuls.”
The Cubs, at least according to Sullivan, are clearly not a wild card team and should run away with the division. If true, the only way this 2+ extra wins can benefit them, then, is when they fight for the best record in the National League – not just their division.
But as we know, nothing can be taken for granted, ESPECIALLY in baseball. So the Cubs, as will you, should be happy that their schedule is a net positive. With any luck, they’ll be the top team once again, keep up that 100-win average of the past two years, and make a deep run in the postseason. It’s gotta start somewhere.