Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Ups and Downs Will Come, But They'll Never Stop Playing

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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Ups and Downs Will Come, But They’ll Never Stop Playing

Chicago Cubs

I’ve long been a fan of the BBC Show ‘Doctor Who,’ but I only recently picked it back up where I left off. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s basically about a time traveler who goes around the universe in an old fashioned British Police Box (called a Tardis) with a companion, saving the day over and over.

The catch – and reason that the show’s been going on since 1963 – is that “The Doctor” is capable of regenerating into a new person when he dies.

While that provides some comfort – he’ll never stop going – it’s a constant reminder that the current version of The Doctor won’t last forever. In a weird way, that reminds me a lot of the Chicago Cubs.

They may not always be the version of the Cubs you remember or fell in love with, and they may not even be the best versions of themselves. BUT – no matter what they look like or how well they’re doing – they’ll always be playing and they aren’t going anywhere. I like that.

Our last check-in came exactly two weeks ago (April 27), although it wasn’t the brightest of stretches. So let’s dive back in and see where their record, playoff odds, and a variety of offensive and pitching statistics stand within the division, the league, and all of baseball.

Since that last check-in, the Cubs have gone 5-8 against the Red Sox (1-2), Phillies (3-1), Yankees (0-3), and Rockies (1-2). They’ve also fallen to fourth place in the NL Central. Here are the standings as of the start of play today:

  1. St. Louis Cardinals: 19-14 (.576)
  2. Cincinnati Reds: 18-15 (.545)
  3. Milwaukee Brewers: 18-16 (.529)
  4. Chicago Cubs: 17-17 (.500)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 14-20 (.412)

The Cubs are in not in first place, and I know that’s not something we’re used to now, but it’s far from the end of the world. Even “fourth place” sounds scarier than it should: the Cubs are only 2.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals, and they’re heading there this weekend for a three-game set. Plus, with the off-day today and Monday, they should be well-rested in short order.

The Cubs’ winning percentage today (.500) is a good bit worse than last time (.571). If they continued at this pace for the rest of the year, they’d win, well, 81 games, which is far off from their projections, and not what’s going to happen. I’m quite confident in that.

Since April 20th, the Cubs’ run differential (+8) has decreased by 12 runs and just barely stayed in the front half of the league. Take a look at the leaders from around the league:

  1. New York Yankees: +56
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: +53
  3. Washington Nationals: +51
  4. Houston Astros: +40
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks: +23

  1. Chicago Cubs: +8

That’s not a great differential, but like I said, it’s better than half the teams in baseball. It really could be worse. You know, by definition.

As for the rest of the division, the Reds (+18), Brewers (+15), and Cardinals (+13) are all on fire (the Cardinals have done especially well recently), while the Pirates (-33) are among the worst in baseball.

The Cubs’ pitching staff has had a rough two-weeks … again. During our last check-in, the Cubs 3.67 runs allowed per game ranked 8th in all of baseball. Today, however, that number has ballooned to 4.65 runs per game, which is just 13th best in MLB.

The offense, on the other hand, has actually not fallen as far as you may have thought. While they couldn’t keep up their fourth best in baseball 5.19 runs per game, the Cubs have managed to stay in the top ten with 4.88 RPG. That should be more than enough to win an awful lot – the pitching staff and defense just need to finally come around.

The Cubs’ expected record, according to two separate measures, indicates that they are probably right on track:

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.

The Cubs, according to those to numbers, could have maybe won one additional game, but yeah, they’ve basically earned their record (whether that makes you feel good or not depends on your own disposition).

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), however, have the Cubs winning something between 17.8 games and 18.9 games. That’s a slightly better outlook, but still not terribly far away from reality. If the Cubs want to win more, then, they’ll have to actually play better. There is no regular old positive regression coming in the luck department. As far as the future goes …

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to win 74 more games from here on out, bringing their season win total to 91 (which is actually only two fewer than last time). That remaining projected win total, however, is the second best in baseball (behind only the Dodgers). If things played out that way, the Cubs would finish tied for the fourth best record in baseball (with the Indians) and win the NL Central. See, it’s not all bad.

In fact, Baseball Prospectus echoes that projection, and suggests that the Cubs will win the Central division by eight games. That’s still good.

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: 74.4% (-14.6%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 92.2% (-4.%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 13.5% (-1.6)

I won’t lie to you or sugar coat it: the Cubs’ chances of winning the division are the lowest they’ve been since probably the end of 2015. The banked losses aren’t going anywhere, and the Cubs are projected to take the division in just three out of four scenarios. Still great, to be sure, but less great than the 90+% we’re used to seeing.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 62.6% (-18.5%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 77.0% (-12.3%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 10.6% (-4.0%)

And things are darker still at Baseball Prospectus. Here the Cubs odds of taking the division have fallen to just over three out of five, while their world series odds are down to 10.6%. It’s still very early, but now would be a great time to go on an absolute tear.

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

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

The Cubs offense, as you can probably see, has taken its lumps. They’ve improved their walk rate, strikeout rate, and ISO, but have gotten on base less and slugged less, too. Overall, their 92 wRC+ shows that they’ve been below league average collectively and their 17th ranked wOBA echoes that.

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

While the pitching staff may look strong in many areas, I wouldn’t allow yourself to get to blinded by the issues. The bullpen, it seems, is carrying much of the weight. If you were to just focus on the starters’ stats, their 4.56 ERA, 3.99 FIP, and 22.5% K-rate would all be a good deal worse than the Cubs’ overall stats. The bullpen, to be fair, is walking more than you’d like to see (10.4%). So, in short, the Cubs pitching staff still has things to worry about – and so do the Cubs as a whole …

BUT things are still on track for another postseason run, and hey … at least the Cubs are still here and playing baseball, whatever incarnation they’ve taken this season.

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Author: Michael Cerami

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