The Cubs' Slow Start and the Problem of Banked Losses

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The Cubs’ Slow Start and the Problem of Banked Losses

Chicago Cubs

Ah, the Cubs lost again yesterday.

That’s losses in five of their last six, and nine of their last fourteen. That’s the stretch you’re really feeling today, because it was already a lackluster start for a ballyhooed defending championship team, and then after that, the Cubs really hit the skids, and now stand at 17-17 through 34 games, resting uncomfortably in fourth place in the NL Central.

Michael got into the numbers behind the numbers in the Off-Day Check-In earlier today, but my 10,000-foot overview remains very much what I put in the “OK, here are all the negative things” post earlier this week. I would still bet on this team to make the playoffs, but there is a certain reality embedded in that very statement: yes, I now do have questions about just how much of a battle it is going to be for this team to make the playoffs.

The Cubs are very fortunate that no team in the Central has been blistering hot to start the season like they were last year, when they were a ridiculous 26-8 in their first 34 games. But still: having already banked 17 losses at this point – regardless of how you project the Cubs from here – is a bad thing.

Unlike individual player stats that you can chalk up to this or that or small sample size and project positively going forward (because the past individual results do not impact future team results), team wins and losses are another beast entirely. Regardless of your team projections going forward, past results do impact future team standing. Once a game is won or lost, no improvement in the future can change that result – and that result directly implicates whether a team makes the playoffs. So, although you often find me to be a little too sunshine-y when it comes to explaining away the “why” of a given loss or a player’s performance, you will not find me the same kind of rosy when it comes to laying out the reality of banked losses.

Let me put it this way: let’s imagine the Cubs are a true talent .600 winning percentage team (a generous assertion, but used for illustrative purposes here) – if everything went as it was “supposed” to, that Cubs team would win 97 games.

Let’s similarly imagine that, after these first 34 games, the Cubs actually play like that team, and win at a .600 clip. Because they’ve already banked 17 losses, that same “97-win-caliber” team now wins just 94 games.

On the one hand, is three extra losses a ton? No. That’s where people can still rightly say “it’s early.” But on the other hand, how many times have we seen playoff spots in the 88 to 95 win range come down to just one or two games?

Throw in the fact that there are genuine performance and health questions about some key Cubs players, and I do think guarding your heart a little right now is justified.

Like I’ve said before: if I’m betting on the NL Central today, I’m still taking the Cubs. But I don’t think it’s gonna be a cake walk like last year, where the division is all but settled in July.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.