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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: This Should Be Fun …

Analysis and Commentary
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Welp. This should be fun.

Our last check-in came exactly three weeks ago (May 11), and also preceded a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals. That was ultimately a series loss for the Cubs, though, so let’s hope things go differently (much differently) this time around. Anyway, let’s dive back in and see where the Cubs record, playoff odds, and a variety of offensive and pitching statistics stand within the division, the league, and all of baseball.

Since that last check-in, the Cubs have gone 8-10 against the Cardinals (1-2), Reds (3-0), Brewers (1-1), and Giants (3-1), Dodgers (0-3), and Padres (0-3). But because of the issues around the NL Central, they’ve actually managed to climb a spot in the standings . Here are the standings as of the start of play today:

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: 28-25 (.528)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals: 25-25 (.481)
  3. Chicago Cubs: 25-27 (.481)
  4. Cincinnati Reds: 24-28 (.462)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 24-30 (.444)

That the Cubs are in third place of the NL Central isn’t really as disturbing as the fact that they were just swept in back-to-back series, losing six in a row, to the Dodgers and the Padres. Brett discussed it earlier, but that’s the first time in the Joe Maddon era the Cubs have lost six straight or have found themselves two games below .500.


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The Cubs’ winning percentage today (.481) is a good bit worse than last time (.500) and much worse than the time before that (.571). If they continued at this pace for the rest of the year, they’d win *sigh* 78 games … if you round up.

Since last check, the Cubs’ run differential (+0) has decreased by 8 runs and just barely stayed in the front half of the league. Take a look at the leaders from around the league:

  1. Houston Astros: +90
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: +86
  3. Washington Nationals: +65
  4. New York Yankees: +56
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks: +54

  1. Chicago Cubs: 0

That … well … sucks, friends. It may be in the top half of the league, but yeeesh – that doesn’t make me feel any better. As for the rest of the division, the Brewers (+28) are actually the only ones ahead of the Cubs, as the Cardinals (-2), Reds (-11), and Pirates (-38) have each continued to slump.


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It may not inspire much confidence, but the Cubs’ pitching staff has actually improved the number of runs allowed per game from 4.65 last time we checked in to 4.62 this time around (19th in MLB). The offense, on the other hand, has slipped from a previous top ten score of 4.88 RPG, to the 13th best in baseball 4.62 runs per game. I suppose both of these could be worse, but they’re not going to be the team we all thought they could be with this sort of run differential.

The Cubs’ expected record, according to two separate measures, indicates that they are probably right where they should be:

The Pythagorean and BaseRuns records are a way to measure how many games a team should have won over a given stretch based on the number of runs score and allowed (Pythagorean) and other underlying metrics (BaseRuns). Obviously, teams frequently under and over-perform these numbers, but they are usually a pretty good indication of how well a team may do going forward.

The Cubs, according to those to numbers, could have maybe won one additional game, but yeah, they’ve basically earned their record (which, yuck).

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), however, have the Cubs winning something between 25 games and 27 games. That’s a slightly better outlook, but still not terribly far away from reality. If the Cubs want to win more, then, they’ll have to score more runs and allow less runs (channeling my inner Yogi here). Put differently: there’s not likely some natural, positive regression coming in the luck department right now if the Cubs keep putting out the same run-related results.


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How about something positive for a change?

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to win 63 more games the rest of the season, bringing their season win total to 88 (which is actually only three fewer than last time). While that may not seem great, that remaining projected win total, is tied for the second best in baseball (behind only the Dodgers). If things played out that way, the Cubs would finish with the seventh best record in baseball and win the NL Central by five full games. See, it’s not all bad.

Baseball Prospectus is slightly less optimistic, however, projecting just 62 more wins for the Cubs this year – though that’s still seven more than the Cardinals and nine more than the Brewers – so the end result would be the same.

So, what does it mean for the playoffs and beyond? Let’s check back in on that at FanGraphs.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 67.4% (-7.0%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 81.0% (-11.2%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 10.6% (-2.9)

Here’s where things start to look worse and worse, though. While the Cubs maintain the best chance of winning the division (by quite a bit), this number has been in a straight free fall since the beginning of the year. What was once a nine out of ten (or better) bet is now just something that happens two out of three times.

Moreover, the Cubs’ 10.6% shot at winning the World Series is the lowest among all the projected divisional winners. So even if they do manage to make it into the playoffs, a World Series repeat is as unlikely as ever.


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Ready for it to get worse?

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 49.7% (-12.9%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 60.1% (-16.9%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 7.0% (-3.6%)

Woof.

According to BP, the Cubs chances of winning the division are below 50%. They are still, of course, the favorites to win (in this instance, the Brewers and Cardinals each have about a one in five shot of taking it), but that is far from reassuring. A winning streak is needed now as much as ever.

Now check out some of their statistics via FanGraphs, with their league ranking and relative positioning since last time.

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

Well, the Cubs are walking more and hitting for some more power, but they’re also striking out more and slugging less. Unfortunately, this particular combination of statistics has lowered their overall offensive production from 17th best in baseball to 19th (or worse) by wOBA and from 20th to 21st by wRC+. The Cubs offense just isn’t click AT ALL and it’s showing. I don’t think I even needed to tell you that.

How about the pitching?

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

Relative to the rest of the league, the Cubs are striking out plenty of batters, but their walk rate is exceedingly high. Even still, it’s hard to argue with a 2.60 K/BB ratio which ranks just out of the top ten – even if it should arguably be better.


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With that said, the team’s ERA and FIP is slipping towards the middle of the pack and that’s just not going to cut it come October. You can feel free to enjoy the 3.84 xFIP, but there are reasons to believe the Cubs are legitimately earning the extra home runs – harder contact, more fly balls – so it doesn’t bring me much peace right now. Hopefully, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta can settle this rotation with a string of nice performances. The Cubs’ offense really, really needs as little to overcome as possible right now.

And it is my privilege to remind you that despite playing worse than they have in years – literally – the Cubs next opponent is none other than the St. Louis Cardinals. Yippee.


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Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.

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