I am almost never a fan of an off-day, but an off-day following a four-game road sweep and on the day the Draft begins is about as sweet as it gets.
It’s been 14 days since our last check-in, and things have been pretty good since then. In fact, I’d be willing to say that the Cubs have revealed themselves as one of the top teams in baseball, if not already the best in the National League.
However, things got off on the wrong foot when the Cubs were swept by the Indians to start things off in this stretch (0-2). Fortunately, they followed that with back-to-back series wins against the Giants (2-1) and Pirates (2-1), before sweeping the Mets in four in New York (4-0). Altogether, the Cubs went 8-4 during these past twelve games, including eight of their past ten overall. Not bad.
The Cubs remain in second place, but now, they share the same number of losses as the first-place Brewers:
- Milwaukee Brewers: 37-23 (.617)
- Chicago Cubs: 33-23 (.589)
- St. Louis Cardinals: 32-25 (.561)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 30-29 (.508)
- Cincinnati Reds: 21-39 (.350)
There’s still a bit of a close race in the NL Central, but that web of intertwined records no longer exists – the Pirates, in particular, fell back a bit, losing two of three to each of the Reds, Cardinals, and Cubs , before dropping three of four to the Cardinals over the weekend. Yikes. Their already teetering playoff odds tanked, much as their offseason suggested they might be inclined to do this season.
For the third consecutive check-in, the Cubs’ run differential has skyrocketed, now sitting second best in Major League Baseball and tops in the National League:
- Houston Astros: +122
- Chicago Cubs: +93
- Boston Red Sox: +90
- New York Yankees: +78
- Atlanta Braves: +62
- Washington Nationals: +46
- Los Angeles Dodgers: +37
- Los Angeles Angels: +30
- Milwaukee Brewers: +29
- Arizona Diamondbacks: +28
In fact, no other team in the National League is particularly close, as the Cubs have not-so-quietly been killing it on both sides of the ball.
As for splitting the runs scored and allowed, the Cubs’ 5.23 runs scored per game is slightly lower than last time, but still third best in MLB and, for the first time that I can recall this season is the best mark in the NL (the Braves have really fallen back lately).
And while the Cubs still have the fourth fewest runs allowed per game (same ranking as last time), the number has actually dropped from 3.75 to 3.57. Only the Astros, Nationals, and D-Backs are better, the Brewers (3.75, 6th) and Cardinals (3.82, 7th) are right behind the Cubs.
So where does that leave their expected records? Well, according to two different measures, the Cubs should actually still have fewer than 20 losses this season!
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.
If the Cubs sequenced everything as you might expect, they would have as many as five more wins than they do right now, which would leave them with the best record in the NL. Alas, that’s not the reality. Though it is worth pointing out that the Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), also have the Cubs winning something between 36.4 games on the low-end and 37.6 games on the high end. So there’s definitely been a case of the bad luck blues going on. It’s OK, though. That’s likely just good news for the future.
Speaking of which … FanGraphs is projecting the Cubs to go 60-46 the rest of the way, which is tops in the National League and would leave them with a 93-69 record by the end of the year, which is not only best in the NL, but also an increase of one win over the last time we checked in. That’s a good sign from the underlying equations.
Naturally, things are once again looking brighter on the playoff odds side of things.
- Chances of winning the division: 74.6% (+8.8)
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 94.0% (+5.9)
- Chances of winning the World Series: 10.8% (+1.1)
Since the last time we’ve checked in, the Cubs’ playoff odds have exploded at FanGraphs. They’re now projecting the Cubs to make the post season in over 9/10 simulations, and to win their division at a nearly 75% clip. That is fantastic.
And even Baseball Prospectus is optimistic.
- Chances of winning the division: 52.1% (+5.8)
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 83.5% (+9.9)
- Chances of winning the World Series: 11.6% (+0.9)
The Cubs odds to take the division are finally back over 50% at Baseball Prospectus, while their chances of reaching the postseason at all are way up. These odds are still more conservative than FanGraphs, but there’s no reason for disappointment here. Not at all.
You know who’s awesome? The Cubs.
Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics (Ranking Today, Previous)
Walk Rate: 9.8% (3rd, 6th)
Strikeout Rate: 20.8% (8th, 8th)
ISO: .168 (9th, 6th)
AVG: .266 (T-1st, 6th)
OBP: .347 (1st, 2nd)
SLG: .434 (4th, 4th)
wOBA: .336 (3rd, T-3rd)
wRC+: 111 (3rd, 4th)
Position Player War: 14.5 (1st, 1st)
Need more evidence that the Cubs offense is really good? No way. They are first in batting average, first in on-base percentage, first in the NL in slugging percentage, and have the most WAR of any team’s position players in baseball. Also, credit Joe Maddon for his rotations, because it sure seems to be working. I think it’s hard to argue against it at this point.
And it’s not like the pitchers are slacking.
Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics
ERA: 3.18 (2nd, 2nd)
FIP: 4.02 (14th, 18th)
xFIP: 4.17 (20th, 18th)
K-rate: 22.8% (15th, 14th)
BB-rate: 11.1% (30th, T-30th)
K/BB: 2.05 (27th, 28th)
AVG: .213 (2nd, 2nd)
GB-rate: 46.4% (1st, 1st)
Soft-Contact: 19.6% (7th, 7th)
Hard-Contact: 31.4 (4th, 5th)
Pitching Staff WAR: 4.3 (20th, 22nd)
The Cubs’ ERA ranking remains where it was last time, and it’s still top in the NL. The number itself improved by .10 runs. That’s just nuts. They’ve been so good at preventing runs this season. And while the Cubs’ FIP is still a bit higher, it also improved a great deal both on paper and in the rankings. Things have simple been looking up.
And while their walk rate is still the worst in baseball, it did actually improve since last time. Marginally, but still.
In the meantime, the Cubs’ batting average against improved again, which makes sense given their still-league-leading 46.4% ground ball rate – which improved by over 5 percentage points since our last check in – and top-ten soft/hard-contact rates.
Up Next: The Cubs are playing host to the Phillies (three games) and Pirates (three games) starting tomorrow, before heading north to Milwaukee to take on the Brewers, south to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals, back to Wrigley to host the Dodgers, and out to Cincinnati to face the Reds. That’s a whole lot of NL Central games and games against tough teams in a short period of time, but at least their travel is at a minimum with a bunch of Midwest games.
Here’s hoping the Cubs can keep the good times rolling.