Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Final Check-In

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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Final Check-In

Chicago Cubs

cubs win standings flags scoreboardThe Chicago Cubs just swept the Cincinnati Reds, who’ve now lost to the Cubs thirteen times this season … thanks!

The NL Central race has already been wrapped up and the Cubs are close to clinching the best record in baseball (plus home field advantage through the NL half of the postseason and the opportunity to play the Wild Card winner). This will be the final off-day check-in of the regular season. We made it.

The penultimate off-day check-in came fourteen days (September 8) and thirteen games ago, and, since then, the Cubs had another nice-but-not perfect stretch of baseball. Let’s dive back in and see where their record and playoff odds (ha), and a variety of offensive and pitching statistics stand within the division, the league, and all of baseball.

Since our last off-day check-in, the Cubs have gone 8-5 against the Astros, Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds. They’ve tied their win total from last season – with 10 games more to go – and have shrunk their best-record magic number down to two. Check out the NL Central standings as of the start of play today:

  1. Chicago Cubs: 97-55 (.638)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals: 80-72 (.526)
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates: 76-75 (.503)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers: 68-84 (.447)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 63-89 (.414)

The Cubs now have a 17.0 game lead over the second place Cardinals and a 20.5 game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t care about their lead, because the division has already been clinched. Their magic number for the best record in baseball is just two, with plenty of time left. The Chicago Cubs will be going to the 2016 Playoffs, they will have home field advantage, and they will be playing the winner of the Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field on October 7.

The Cubs’ winning percentage today (.638), is a little worse than last time (.640), but still has them on pace to win nearly 103 games. If they win out, they can reach 107 wins. There is only one other team in baseball with at least 90 wins (Texas Rangers), though, so they’ve done well for themselves.

Since September 8, the Cubs’ run differential has improved once again, now up to +239 on the year. It remains the best differential in all of baseball by a healthy margin. Here are the rest of the top five run differentials, so you can put that in perspective:

  1. Chicago Cubs: +239
  2. Boston Red Sox: +186
  3. Washington Nationals: +152
  4. Cleveland Indians +105
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers +84

The Cubs’ run differential is 53 runs better than the second place Red Sox (who have been surging), and 155 runs better than the fifth place Dodgers. Just for fun, the Cubs run differential is also 390 runs better than the last place Twins (but maybe they’ll soon have the help of Jason McLeod!). The Cubs have also continued to allow the fewest runs per game (3.08) of any team in baseball (slightly better than last time), and have remained in third place in runs scored per game (4.97) behind Boston and Colorado.

The Cubs’ expected record is either two or four wins better than reality by two separate measures:

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 true talent and how well a team may do going forward. The Cubs, according to those to numbers, should have probably won about 3-5 more games than they have.

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on underlying performance) continue to gush over the Cubs and have them winning up to … eh hem … 108 games already this year. They’ve been hot on the Cubs all season long, but it appears in another universe, the Cubs had an outside shot at breaking the all-time season win total.

So, yes, the Cubs still have the best record in baseball, but by three separate accounts, it could and should have been way, way better. According to both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, the Cubs will win 6 more games this season, which would put them right at 103 wins – six games better than last year.

So, what does it mean for the playoffs and beyond? Let’s check back in on that at FanGraphs.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 100.0% (+0.0% from last check)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 100.0% (+0.0%)
  • Chances of winning the NLDS: 61.3% (-1.2%)
  • Chances of winning the NLCS: 31.4% (-2.2%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 17.0% (-1.5%)

After going 8-5 in their past thirteen games, the Cubs’ odds of winning the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series have gone down a bit according to FanGraphs, and are no longer the best odds in baseball. Now, the Boston Red Sox hold that honor with a 35.7% chance of winning the ALCS and a 19.8% chance of winning the World Series (the Cubs are underdogs!) Of course, these will go up and down all year; and you can’t be too upset with an 17.0% chance at the big one.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 100.0% (+0.0%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 100.0% (+0.0)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 26.5% (+3.7)

Baseball Prospectus, on the other hand, is a lot more optimistic on the Cubs chances of winning the World Series. According to their models, it’s slightly better than 1 in 4.

Now check out some of their statistics via FanGraphs, with their league ranking and relative positioning since last time in parentheses:

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

  • Walk Rate: 10.2% (Today: 1st – Previously: 1st) 
  • Strikeout Rate: 21.2% (Today: 17th – Previously: 17th)
  • ISO: .173 (Today: 8th – Previously: 13th)
  • OBP: .343 (Today: 2nd – Previously: 2nd
  • SLG: .429 (Today: 11th – Previously: T-12th)
  • wOBA: .332 (Today: 3rd – Previously: 4th)
  • wRC+: 105 (Today: T-2nd – Previously: T-3rd

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

  • ERA: 3.09 (Today: 1st – Previously: 1st)
  • FIP: 3.79 (Today: 4th – Previously: 4th) 
  • xFIP: 3.75 (Today: T-1st – Previously: 1st)
  • K-Rate: 24.3% (Today: 3rd – Previously: 3rd) 
  • Walk Rate: 8.3% (Today: 19th – Previously: 19th) 
  • K/BB: 2.92 (Today: 7th – Previously: 9th) 
  • AVG (against): .207 (Today: 1st – Previously: 1st) 
  • WHIP: 1.10 (Today: 1st – Previously: 1st) 

Since our last check in, the Cubs offense has held steady, but hit for a bit more power (ISO and SLG are up). The power surge has helped improve the relative ranking of their wOBA and wRC+ league wide. The Cubs are still easily one of the top five offenses in all of baseball.

Of course, they also have one of the top five pitching staffs in all of baseball, as well. Their defense and weak-contact inducing pitchers continue to allow the lowest batting average by a wide margin, which has led to the best WHIP and ERA as well (although their defense may have something to do with it). But even under the surface, the Cubs’ fourth best FIP and tied-for-best xFIP suggests that these pitchers aren’t solely getting lucky/benefitting from abnormally good defense.

We are two weeks and one day away from the NLDS. How are you feeling?

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami