Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Getting In a Good Spot for Tough Stretch

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Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Getting In a Good Spot for Tough Stretch

Analysis and Commentary

Well, the final lead up to this off-day check-in was ugly, but the overall body of work has been more than okay lately.

It’s been 10 days since our last check-in, and the Cubs have done very well for themselves during that stretch. They started things off with a series win over Philadelphia, including the first walk-off of the year (2-1), before winning a series against the Pirates (2-1) and taking the first game against the Brewers, which temporarily put them in first place. However, after dropping the final two against Milwaukee (1-2), the Cubs slid back into second, though they still share the same number of losses.

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: 41-27 (.603)
  2. Chicago Cubs: 38-27 (.585)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 36-30 (.545)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 33-35 (.485)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 25-43 (.368)

The Cubs currently stand 1.5 games back of the Brewers, and the Cardinals are 2.5 games behind the Cubs (with a big weekend series on tap). But again, despite the rocky end to the last series, I really feel good about the Cubs right now. That walk-off against Philly and the comeback/extra-inning barrage against the Brewers really put up a shield. We’ll see how long it lasts, but yeah, I’m feeling good.

The Cubs’ run differential still has them tops in the National League:

  1. Houston Astros: +138
  2. Boston Red Sox: +103
  3. New York Yankees: +91
  4. Chicago Cubs: +89
  5. Atlanta Braves: +67
  6. Los Angeles Dodgers: +56
  7. Washington Nationals: +51
  8. Arizona Diamondbacks: +44
  9. Milwaukee Brewers: +42
  10. Cleveland Indians: +31

The Cubs’ run differential slid backwards a bit this time around, though it is worth pointing out that they were run-neutral with the Brewers this week as each team scored exactly 7 runs over three games. Even still, the Cubs remain the class of the National League and pretty clearly belong to the highest tier of scorers and preventers. Well, the Astros are probably in a tier of their own, then the Red Sox/Yankees/Cubs, and then the Braves to the Brewers. But you get the point.

As far as runs scored per game, the Cubs now rank fifth (4.89 RS/G), which is behind only the Braves in the National League. That number is down quite a bit from it’s height, but is obviously still quite good. More impressively, the Cubs runs allowed per game has improved both nominally (3.57 to 3.52) and in the rankings (fourth to third). The pitching staff, it seems, is holding up their end of the bargain.

So where does that leave their expected records? Well, according to two different measures, the Cubs should actually still have fewer than 25 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 four more wins than they do right now, which would leave them with the best record in the National League. The Brewers, meanwhile, should have two to three wins fewer than they already do. Sigh. Baseball’s gonna baseball – also, the Brewers bullpen and insane luck in one-run games has helped them overachieve, but that doesn’t mean it’s good (for them) news for the future.

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), also have the Cubs winning something between 41.2 games on the low-end and 42 games on the high end. So, yeah, Cubs have been unlucky.

But there’s plenty more baseball to come and FanGraphs is projecting the Cubs to go 54-43 the rest of the way, which is among the best in the National League by winning percentage, just narrowly behind the Nationals (54-42) and Dodgers (54-41), who’ve played more games to this point. But because of the Cubs superior record, that projection would leave them with the best record in the NL by the end of the year (92-70). It’s not 100 wins, but you’ll best in the NL every season.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 73.8% (-0.8)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 94.4% (+0.4)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 10.1% (-0.7)

So, the Cubs playoff odds remain fairly stagnate this time around, which isn’t all that surprising (they enjoyed a pretty big leap last time). I tend to think that pulling out one more win against the Brewers would’ve shifted these numbers a bit more than we might expect, but I think everything looks just fine where it is.

Here’s some more odds, for context:

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 51.6% (-0.5) 
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 84.8% (+1.3)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 11.5% (-0.1)

It’s the same story at Baseball Reference, where the Cubs odds remain strong, but didn’t move too much overall. Again, that’s fine for the time being, because they’re well-positioned to pounce.

Stat time.

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics (Ranking Today, Previous)

Walk Rate: 9.7% (3rd, 3rd)
Strikeout Rate: 21.3% (11th, 8th)
ISO: .157 (19th, 9th)
AVG: .258 (6th, T-1st)
OBP: .339 (1st, 1st)
SLG: .415 (10th, 4th)
wOBA: .326 (6th, 3rd)
wRC+: 103 (10th, 3rd)
Position Player War: 14.0 (1st, 1st)

Although the Cubs strikeout rate rose compared to last time, they don’t have any more power to show for it (ISO, SLG both down). That’s a big of a bummer and something that sure feels right, given the way things have gone at the plate lately. And that’s not the only bad news. Their OBP might still be best in the business, but it’s down relative to last time and the same goes for the Cubs overall position player WAR (it was 14.5 just ten days ago). The offense has sputtered a bit lately, and the lack of Kris Bryant doing much of anything is probably the main driver.

But at least the pitching staff is holding up.

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

ERA: 3.17 (2nd, 2nd)
FIP: 3.96 (14th, 14th)
xFIP: 4.09 (19th, 20th)
K-rate: 22.9% (15th, 15th)
BB-rate: 11.1% (30th, 30th)
K/BB: 2.07 (27th, 27th)
AVG: .212 (2nd, 2nd)
GB-rate: 47.8% (1st, 1st)
Soft-Contact: 19.7% (5th, 7th)
Hard-Contact: 31.2 (4th, 4th)
Pitching Staff WAR: 5.3 (18th, 20th)

Although the Cubs’ ERA, FIP, K-Rate, BB-rate, batting average, and ground ball rate, have all remained in the same spot in the rankings compared to last time, each has improved since our last check. Plus, the Cubs’ 3.17 ERA remains the best in the National League, and their FIP, while relatively high, is fine given how good their batted ball data is (which tends to lend itself to results that outperform peripherals, especially when you have a good defense).

Indeed, that team ground ball and soft/hard contact data is making me smile nice and wide, because it certainly is necessary to be that good on balls in play when your walk rate is the worst in the Majors. But let’s not end on a down-note: the Cubs pitching staff has been VERY good lately, and it’s helping keep an inconsistent offense above water.

Up Next: The Cubs will now head to St. Louis to face some lame, third-place team before hosting the rising Dodgers for three at Wrigley Field. Without a break, the Cubs will then go to Cincinnati for four before taking on the Dodgers in LA for four more, and finally wrapping up a 17-game stretch at home against the Twins. There’s a WHOLE LOT of baseball coming up, and much of it will be tough. You ready for this?


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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.