The Chicago Cubs lost a lot of games in the first half of the season, and, as our off-day check-ins have routinely confirmed, the record was mostly warranted (well, technically, their performance suggests roughly 1-2 more wins, but still … you know how it went).
While I am expecting the Cubs to improve both naturally and by way of trade before the month and season is over, there’s at least one other reason for optimism in the second half: strength of schedule (or, rather, the lack thereof).
As you can see, the Chicago Cubs are projected to have the third easiest schedule in the National League the rest of the way, while the first-place Milwaukee Brewers have the sixth hardest schedule in the NL overall. Of course, there’s at least one problem that I need to point out.
One of the main reasons the Dodgers, for one example, were always going to have one of the easiest schedules the rest of the way is because they don’t have to play themselves and they have the highest projected winning percentage. Make sense? Everyone else will have to play the team that hurts their strength of schedule the most, the Dodgers, besides, you know, the Dodgers.
Well, the problem is that the Cubs, to a slightly lesser extent, have the same problem.
They are projected to have the second-highest winning percentage in the National league the rest of the way, which means that their strength of schedule benefits from not having to play themselves (and the opposite for everybody else). The Brewers, on the other hand, are projected to have the fourth lowest winning percentage the rest of the way, and, thus, are not benefiting from playing themselves, even though everyone else is.
Now, normally, that’s just the way it goes. Obviously, if you’re a good team you’re more likely to have an easier strength of schedule like we discussed. But here’s the problem: the strength of schedule projections were based on the remaining projected winning percentages. The same projections that saw the Cubs winning a whole lot more and the Brewers winning a whole lot less in the first half than they actually did.
So, if you believe that, somehow, these projections are wrong about the actual talent of these two teams, then it’s reasonable to believe that their respective strengths of schedule are both way off (and that goes double, given that they’ll play each other 10 more times before the season is through).
Of course, personally? I don’t believe that. I believe the Cubs are a team that has wildly underachieved – as opposed to a bad team playing up to their expectations – and that the Brewers are a decent team that has overachieved. Which means that I also believe these projected schedule strengths are, in fact, accurate.
And to be sure, even if we met somewhere in the middle (Brewers are slightly better than we thought, the Cubs are slightly worse), the rest of the schedule should still give the Cubs the slight advantage. And any advantage, at this point, is a reason for optimism.