I was just re-reading the last Off-Day Check-In, and boy was that a different world. At the time (July 31), the Cubs had just won 13 of their last 16 games, took over first place, and were riding high on the acquisitions of Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila.
Since then, the Cubs have lost three straight series to the Arizona Diamondbacks (1-2), Washington Nationals (1-2), and San Francisco Giants (1-2), while watching their first place lead shrink to just 1.5 games. Oh, and each of Jose Quintana (7.36 ERA) and Justin Wilson (4.50 ERA) have struggled mightily during that stretch, while Alex Avila has been thrust into the starting role thanks to an injury to Willson Contreras. Yikes.
But today’s an off-day, so let’s do what we do, and 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.
Here are the standings as of the start of play today (all stats are also as of the start of play today):
- Chicago Cubs: 59-54 (.522)
- St. Louis Cardinals: 58-56 (.509)
- Milwaukee Brewers: 59-57 (.509)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 57-58 (.486)
- Cincinnati Reds: LOL
Yes, the Cubs are still in first place, but their lead over the Brewers and Cardinals is dwindling, and it’s not like the Pirates (3.0 games out) are too far behind. These are dangerous times.
Since our last check, the Cubs’ run differential (+36) remained stagnate, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing (it’s still in the top 10 after all) if it weren’t for the fact that the Cardinals have leapt over them with a +52 run differential (8th best in MLB).
Take a look for yourself:
- Los Angeles Dodgers: +202
- Houston Astros: +161
- New York Yankees: +119
- Washington Nationals: +118
- Arizona Diamondbacks: +116
- St Louis Cardinals: +52
- Colorado Rockies: +48
- Chicago Cubs: +36
The Cubs’ run differential is tenth best run MLB and sixth best in the National League, but just second best in their own division. To be honest, that’s not necessarily a great signal for a team that’s fighting off three divisional rivals at once.
And as for the rest of the NL Central, the Brewers (+16) are only just behind the Cubs, while the Pirates (-31) and Reds (MORE LOL) are still struggling.
Breaking this down, the Cubs pitching staff has allowed slightly more runs per game than last time (4.31 to 4.37), but has actually climbed a spot in the rankings. Whereas the Cubs’ run scoring is actually slightly up (from 4.65 runs per game to 4.69), but still ranks just 12th best in baseball.
For what it’s worth, the Cubs’ expected record, according to two different measures, is a bit better than what they’ve actually recorded:
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.
According to those two numbers, the Cubs are just about where they should be in terms of expected wins and losses. The Cardinals, on the other hand, should have about 63 wins, by BOTH measures by now. And that’s another potentially bad sign for the Cubs.
The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), however, have the Cubs winning something between 59 games and 64 games, which is obviously a bit more optimistic. Of course the Cardinals (somewhere between 58 and 64 wins) are right there next to them, too. Which, ugh.
According to FanGraphs, the Cubs should win 29 more games the rest of the way, which is tied for second most with the Dodgers (behind only the Indians). That total would give them 88 wins at the end of the season, which, fortunately, would be five more than the second-place Cardinals.
Baseball Prospectus, on the other hand, projects the Cubs to win just 28 more games the rest of the way, which is tied for second most with the Astros and is behind just the Dodgers and Indians. That would also mean the gap between the Cubs and Cardinals is a game smaller and more likely to be overcome.
But, hey, it’s late into the season, let’s check out some odds and see where things actually stand.
- Chances of winning the division: 77.7% (-11.7%)
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 83.1% (-10.0%)
- Chances of winning the World Series: 12.2% (-2.1%)
The Chicago Cubs chances of winning the division and reaching the playoffs, according to FanGraphs, have taken a serious hit here in the closing months of the season. What was up near 90% prior to today, is closer to a 3/4 chance after a few losing series. And if the Cardinals continue to surge, then the Cubs will have some serious trouble.
But hey (again), that’s just FanGraphs, what does BP have to say?!
- Chances of winning the division: 62.5% (-16.0%)
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 67.5% (-15.9%)
- Chances of winning the World Series: 6.2% (-2.0%)
… Nothing great. Let’s just move on.
After using just the second-half numbers a couple of weeks in a row, I’ve decided to move back to the full season rankings. So, until next time, there won’t be a “previous ranking” score.
Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics
Walk Rate: 9.7% (4th)
Strikeout Rate: 22.0% (18th)
ISO: .186 (6th)
AVG: .246 (23rd)
OBP: .328 (11th)
SLG: .432 (11th)
wOBA: .324 (9th)
wRC+: 97 (12th)
Position Player War: 16.6 (6th)
Somehow, when you look at this, it’s easy to feel a bit better about the Cubs’ offense and positional group overall. After all, only the Dodgers and Nationals have gotten more WAR from the non-pitchers in the National League. Though, I suppose that makes sense, given that those three teams are the divisional leaders.
In any case, it seems as though making more contact is the Cubs issue (low average, high strikeout rate), as they’re walking plenty, and hitting for power.
But how about those pitchers?
Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics
ERA: 3.98 (7th)
FIP: 4.23 (11th)
xFIP: 4.11 (9th)
K-rate: 23.2% (8th)
BB-rate: 9.1% (25th)
K/BB: 2.56 (11th)
AVG: .234 (3rd)
Soft-Contact: 20.1% (4th)
Hard-Contact: 30.9% (10th)
Clearly, the Cubs biggest strength remains turning a lot of soft contact into a low batting average against in order to achieve results (ERA) that are better than the peripherals (FIP). It’s something with which each of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks have all succeeded in the past. Hopefully, soon, they’ll start limiting the walks, too. Then things would look better.
Up Next: The Cubs have another tough series against the D-Backs, only this time it’s on the road (joy). But after that, they return home for four straight against the Reds (STILL LOL), and three against the Blue Jays, before hitting the road for three more against the Reds (HI LOL) and three more against the Phillies. So, you know, things are scheduled to lighten up.