OK, Tell Me the Odds: It Sure Seems Like the Cubs Will Reach the Playoffs

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OK, Tell Me the Odds: It Sure Seems Like the Cubs Will Reach the Playoffs

Analysis and Commentary

It’s never too early to look at playoff odds … he said as a fan of the team with the best odds in their league!

With the regular season firing up tomorrow morning, I thought it would be fun to get one final pre-season look at the playoff odds entering 2018. So we’ll do just that today, using both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus for some added certainty.

Are you ready? (Pssst: You should be, it’s all good news).

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs chances of winning their division currently stand at a strong 79.9%. The Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, and Reds fall in behind them, with only St. Louis posting a reasonable shot at the NL Central, at least according to FanGraphs’ models:

  1. Chicago Cubs: 79.9%
  2. St. Louis Cardinals: 16.6%
  3. Milwaukee Brewers: 2.3%
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 1.0%
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 0.1%

I tend to think that the Cardinals and Brewers should be a bit closer than they are here, but either way, this is clearly the Cubs’ division to lose.

With that said, IF one of the Cardinals/Brewers surprises this year and overtakes the Cubs in the central, the Cubs still have a really good chance to enter the postseason via one of the two wild card slots (15.6%). Altogether, then, their combined chances of reaching the postseason another are the highest in the National League:

  1. Chicago Cubs: 95.5%
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 93.7%
  3. Washington Nationals: 88.8%
  4. Cardinals: 64.8%
  5. New York Mets: 45.5%

According to FanGraphs, those five teams are expected to be the NL’s representatives this October, with the Dodgers and Nationals squaring up in the NLDS, while the Cubs – if they won the most games- face the winner of the Wild Card game between the Mets/Cardinals.

And because of that enviable first seed and a loaded roster, the Cubs’ odds of making it past the NLDS and into the NLCS for the FOURTH consecutive season are also the highest in the National League (52.4%). The Dodgers (52.2%) do trail just behind, and the Nationals are a fair bit back (42.0%). Compared to the rest of baseball, the Cubs’ chances of reaching the championship series are second only to the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros (59.6%).

Naturally, the Cubs are also the owners of the best NL odds to reach the World Series this season (29.0%), but the margin above the Dodgers (28.9%) is razor thin. If we wound up with a third-straight Dodgers/Cubs NLCS, it would be quite the matchup – I’m getting tingly just thinking about it.

And finally, here are the World Series odds (leaders) for all of Major League Baseball:

  1. Houston Astros: 23.6%(!)
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 13.3%
  3. Chicago Cubs: 13.0%
  4. Cleveland Indians: 12.4%
  5. New York Yankees: 11.0%
  6. Washington Nationals: 8.2%

The Cubs fall just behind the Dodgers for the big one, but I don’t think anyone will be complaining about a 13% chance of the Cubs winning their second World Series trophy in three years. Also, the Astros … my word.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Let’s move on to Baseball Prospectus for some perspective.

According to BP, the Cubs are going to win about eight fewer games than they’re projected to at FanGraphs. Fortunately, that still amounts to a divisional win, but it does come with a surprisingly low 56.0% chance of winning the division.

  1. Chicago Cubs: 56.0%
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 24.0%
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 14.0%
  4. Cincinnati Reds: 4.0%
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 2.0%

While I do believe FanGraphs is a bit low on the Brewers, giving them a 1 in 4 chance to win the division this year seems high. And the Cubs with just barely better than a coin flip for the NL Central? I don’t know, I just don’t buy it (or maybe I just don’t want to).

When you combine the Wild Card odds for each of the NL Central’s five teams, you wind up with the following overall make-it-to-October odds:

  1. Chicago Cubs: 76.0%
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 50.0%
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 46.0%
  4. Cincinnati Reds: 6.0%
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 4.0%

But while these numbers (for the Cubs) do strike me as pessimistic, it’s important to square them up against the rest of the league. For example, only American League teams have better odds than the Cubs (Yankees (84.0%), Astros (84.0%), Indians (94.0%)), and the next best team in the NL (Dodgers) is tied with the Cubs. The Nationals, for what it’s worth, are down at 70.0%, but that strikes me as WAY too low in that winnable division.

Baseball Prospectus doesn’t have odds for each individual round of the playoffs up right now (I believe they will later in the season), but they do have World Series odds:

  1. Indians: 15.3%
  2. Astros 14.7%
  3. Dodgers 14.3%
  4. Yankees: 10.8%
  5. Cubs 10.0%
  6. Nationals: 8.4%
  7. Diamondbacks: 4.3%
  8. Brewers: 3.4%
  9. Red Sox: 3.3%
  10. Cardinals 2.9%

According to BP’s calculations, the Cubs have the second best chance of winning the World Series among teams in the National League, but just the fifth best chances overall. Moreover, two of the Cubs division rivals (Brewers and Cardinals) are among the top ten.

All things considered, though, it’s hard to be anything but thrilled with the way things look right now. Owning something between a 10-13% chance of winning the World Series on Opening Day is a position teams would kill to maintain, and the Cubs have had it for about three years now.

And with something between a 76-95% chance of playing meaningful baseball in October for the fourth consecutive season, I’d say we’re all in for a good year.


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Author: Michael Cerami

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