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Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Too Close for Comfort

Analysis and Commentary

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

This is the first off-day check-in since all the way back on August 21, and in that time the Chicago Cubs have played 20 consecutive games across six series. And until this weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Brewers, this post looked like it was going to be a ton of fun. Now? Not so much.


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During this 20-game stretch, the Cubs went 11-9 against the Reds (2-1), Phillies (1-2), Pirates (3-0), Braves (3-1), Pirates (2-2), and Brewers (0-3). Had they won just one of these games against the Brewers, their record wouldn’t just improve to 12-8, they’d gain a 2.0 game swing in their lead over Milwaukee in the NL Central.

Take a look:

  1. Chicago Cubs: 77-66 (.538)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 75-68 (.524)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 75-68 (.524)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 67-77 (.465)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 62-82 (.431)

Over the past twenty games, the Cubs have increased their overall season winning percentage ever so slightly, but the Brewers and Cardinals covered much more ground.

And while the Cubs’ run differential (+71) has improved by 17 runs, they actually dropped below the Cardinals:

  1. Cleveland Indians: 207
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: +168
  3. Washington Nationals: +157
  4. New York Yankees: +152
  5. Houston Astros: +144

  1. St. Louis Cardinals: +74
  2. Chicago Cubs: +71
  3. Colorado Rockies: +49

The Cubs’ run differential is still somewhat good relative to the rest of baseball, but when you don’t even have the best mark in your own division, that’s not a great sign. And speaking of the NL Central, the Brewers (+24) are just three spots behind the Cubs, while the Pirates (-71) and Reds (-94) continue to not matter.


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Despite the offensive void over the weekend, though, it’s worth pointing out that the Cubs’ run scoring is up again (from 4.85 runs per game to 4.94), and still ranks 8th best in baseball and tops in the NL Central.

For what it’s worth, the Cubs’ expected record, according to two different measures, is a bit better than what the Cubs have actually produced:

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 over a long enough horizon (to the extent it remains in the season).


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According to those two numbers, the Cubs should have about 2 more wins than they do right now, and boy would two more wins be helpful. The Brewers, in the meantime, have one more win than they “should,” while the Cardinals, sigh, “should” be tied with the Cubs. Yikes.

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), however, have the Cubs winning something between 77 and 82(!) games, which is obviously a bit more optimistic, while the Cardinals would be somewhere between 75-79. Too bad this game isn’t played on paper.

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are going to go 11-8 the rest of the season, which is actually tied for the best remaining projection in baseball. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are supposed to do one game worse than that, while the Brewers are projected to go 9-10. That’s not a whole lot of breathing room, though, and would seem to suggest that this is going to go down to the wire. Joy. Baseball Prospectus projects the exact same finish as FanGraphs for all three teams.


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So, then, what does that say about the playoffs? Well, it’s not horrible, but it’s not great.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 76.3% (-10.3%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 81.3% (-11.9%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 9.4% (-4.0%)

Ugh.

After building a huge 5.0 game lead heading into the weekend, three straight losses from the Cubs combined with three straight wins by the Brewers and Cardinals have hammered the Cubs’ odds (given how late it is in the season). They’re still the overwhelming favorite, but with multiple head-to-head games remaining this is basically an open race.

Baseball Prospectus is worse …

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 60.3% (-14.3%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 68.0% (-16.2%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 5.8% (-2.6%)

Well, shoot.

The Cubs chances of winning the division have trickled all the way down to just 60.3% according to BP’s projections and that’s extremely uncomfortable. This isn’t the season we were expecting, but it’s the one we got. Three-team divisional race, here we come.

Now let’s take a peek at those statistics (today’s ranking, previous ranking):

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

Walk Rate: 9.7% (4th, 3rd)
Strikeout Rate: 22.3% (19th, 19th)
ISO: .184 (9th, 7th)
AVG: .253 (18th, 20th)
OBP: .335 (5th, 9th)
SLG: .436 (12th, 12th)
wOBA: .329 (7th, 8th)
wRC+: 100 (10th, 9th)
Position Player War: 22.5 (6th, 4th)


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Thanks to hitting for a bit more average, while keeping the walk rate pretty steady, the Cubs OBP has climbed up a few spots relative to the rest of the league. And given that their power has remaining fairly constant too, they’ve moved up a bit in the wOBA department. Despite how it may feel, their offense is mostly fine, it’s just not nearly as good as it should be. And it’s been especially bad over the past week. That’s the frustration.

But how about those pitchers?

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

ERA: 4.09 (10th, 8th)
FIP: 4.26 (12th, 12th)
xFIP: 4.15 (9th, 9th)
K-rate: 23.2% (8th, 8th)
BB-rate: 9.2% (24th, 27th)
K/BB: 2.51 (12th, 14th)
AVG: .236 (4th, 3rd)
Soft-Contact: 20.3% (3rd, 3rd)
Hard-Contact: 30.7% (8th, 7th)

Not a ton of movement here, as the Cubs pitching staff remains fairly pedestrian overall. Not unlike the offense, the pitching hasn’t killed the Cubs, but it’s certainly performing below expectations. Hopefully, everyone turns it up heading into the final stretch.

Up Next: Starting tomorrow, the Cubs will play three straight against the Mets at Wrigley, and if they don’t win at least two of those things will be really tense. After all, the Cardinals are coming to town over the weekend, to play three of the seven remaining games against the Cubs. After that, there’s another off-day, two games and the Rays and … EIGHT STRAIGHT against the Brewers and Cardinals, all on the road. Woof.


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This is going to be too close for comfort. It already is.


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Michael Cerami

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