I’m willing to bet that many of you checking out this article are already prepared to dismiss the excuse that the Cubs’ 2017 woes are based on the toughness of their schedule … and that’s OK.
It’s okay, because I think we can all agree that strength of schedule really is just an oft-employed excuse for exceptionally poor (or exceptional strong) play. Where we may differ, however, is that I don’t necessarily believe that excuses – both in general, and in this particular instance – need immediately and totally be ignored.
Instead, we must be willing to acknowledge that while strength of schedule cannot be used to explain away everything that’s happened on the field for the Cubs this year, it certainly can play a role in a team’s fate. Further, the extent of that role depends greatly on the relative distance that team’s schedule is above or below league average.
And to that end …
Per ESPN, the Cubs have played the fourth-toughest schedule in baseball, and by far the toughest in the NL. https://t.co/SarClyxyXu
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) May 14, 2017
Yes, the Chicago Cubs schedule has been the fourth toughest in all of Major League Baseball and the single toughest in the National League. But before we dive in, let’s take a closer look at the numbers (stats via ESPN):
- New York Yankees: .538
- Baltimore Orioles: .535
- Boston Red Sox: .530
- Chicago Cubs: .525
- Toronto Blue Jays: .519
First thing’s first: it’s impossible to look at that list and not acknowledge that, of the teams with the top five toughest schedules, two clubs (the Yankees and Orioles) have also had two of the best records in all of MLB:
WEEK 7: The BEST and the WORST records in baseball. pic.twitter.com/Xf2UEVE3fN
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) May 15, 2017
In other words, a “tough” schedule isn’t hurting the Yankees or Orioles.
The Blue Jays, however, have been among the worst teams in baseball this season, and the Boston Red Sox, just one game over .500, have also been underperforming.
Even still, you cannot deny the facts: the Chicago Cubs’ schedule has been the fourth toughest in MLB and the toughest overall in the National League.
In fact, the next closest NL team, the Colorado Rockies, has a strength of schedule is some ten points lower than the Cubs. And, on average, the Cubs’ .525 mark is 33 points (!) higher than the National League average of .492 (eight of the bottom ten teams in SOS are from the NL).
To be fair, however, the rest of the NL Central has had a rough go of it, as well:
- Chicago Cubs: .525 (4th)
- Milwaukee Brewers: .512 (8th)
- St. Louis Cardinals: .510 (10th)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: .503 (14th)
- Cincinnati Reds: .500 (16th)
But again, no one in the National League (let alone in the Central) has had it as tough as the Cubs have. Some of their own losing ways have contributed to that, of course, but remember, this is just one factor – among many, many performance-based issues – contributing to their below .500, fourth-place record.
But here’s the good news: this particular SOS issue should naturally even out and soon.
The Cubs have played a total of 12 series this season, winning seven (Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers, Brewers, Reds, Pirates, Phillies) and losing five (Pirates, Red Sox, Yankees, Rockies, Cardinals). Their opponents’ winning percentage during that stretch has been .530 (slightly different than ESPN’s version of SOS). The Cubs’ next twelve series, however, happen to be against far lesser competition, in that respect.
Obviously this’ll change as the weeks go on, but from now until the conclusion of the Marlins’ series on June 25th, the Cubs’ opponents have a collective winning percentage of just .466! That’s a difference of .064 points – which stands in stark contrast to what the Cubs have faced to date.
So, even if nothing changed, then – as in no positive regression on defense or in the rotation, players returning from injury, etc. – the Chicago Cubs should fare far better over the next stretch of baseball than they have over their last stretch. They still need to, you know, actually play well to take advantage of that advantage, of course, but the path forward should provide less resistance.