Cubs Off-Day Check-In: What the ... the Cubs' Playoff Odds Went *UP*?!

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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: What the … the Cubs’ Playoff Odds Went *UP*?!

Chicago Cubs

If we haven’t already, I think it might be time to come to terms with something: 2017 won’t be easy.

The Cubs are still the favorites in the NL Central, but I don’t think we can comfortably say – after 65 completed games and 33 banked losses – that there’s going to be an early August (or even September) wrap-up this year. Instead, the Cubs may be fighting this beast the whole entire way, and that’s just how it’s gonna be. But, even with all of that said, there’s some surprisingly good news at the bottom of this post. If you stick with it, I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised, if not downright shocked.

Our last check-in came exactly two weeks ago (June 1) and actually led immediately into the Cubs’ best stretch of the season. Unfortunately, the Cubs weren’t able to keep up their pace and the losses followed quickly thereafter. But before we go too deep into this story, let’s dive back in and see where the Cubs 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 7-6 against the Cardinals (3-0), Marlins (2-1), Rockies (1-3), and Mets (1-2). Here are the standings as of the start of play today:

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: 35-32 (.522)
  2. Chicago Cubs: 32-33 (.492)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 30-34 (.469)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 30-36 (.455)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 29-36 (.446)

Despite a near .500 record during the 13 games, the Cubs actually climbed a spot in the standings. Of course, that’s mostly thanks to the fact that the Cardinals had an absolutely abysmal stretch of baseball, themselves, and the Brewers mostly just held their ground.

The Cubs’ winning percentage today (.492) is a little bit better than last time (.481), but still pretty terrifying overall. If they continued at this pace for the rest of the year, they’d win just 79 games.

Since our last check, the Cubs’ run differential (+3) has increased by 3 runs, though Tuesday’s night’s thumping of the Mets is wholly responsible. With that said, the Cubs’ differential is still in the top half of the league and moved up a couple of spots relative to everyone else.

Take a look for yourself:

  1. New York Yankees: +114
  2. Houston Astros: +102
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers: +94
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks: +83
  5. Colorado Rockies: +66

  1. Chicago Cubs: +3

Sure, it’s better than last time, and sure it moved up relative to the league, but this is just so far from their true talent level and so unbelievably frustrating. As for the rest of the division, the Brewers (+15) have snuck into the top ten, but have dropped 13 runs since our last check-in. They are also still the only team from the Central ahead of the Cubs: Cardinals (-12), Reds (-17), and Pirates (-33).

The Cubs pitching staff has treaded water since our last check-in, allowing just .01 more runs than they did last time (4.63 runs allowed per game). That ranks out exactly in the middle of the pack.

The Cubs offense has actually increased their runs scored per game (4.62 to 4.68) but has dropped in the rankings relative to the rest of the league (13th to 17th). In other words, as the summer continues to heat up, other teams have improved their offensive production more than the Cubs have.

For what it’s worth, the Cubs’ expected record, according to two different measures, is a bit better than what they’ve actually recorded:

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.

According to those two numbers, the Cubs probably should’ve won one more game than they have, but yeah, they’ve basically earned their record (which, yuck).

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), however, have the Cubs winning something between 32 games and 34.5 games. That’s a slightly better outlook (as it was last time), but still not terribly far away from reality. There is some reason to believe the Cubs have been playing better than before, but still … there’s just not much here to hold onto.

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to win 55 more games the rest of the season, bringing their season win total to 87 (one less than last time, but four less than the time before that). That’s tied for the third highest remaining win total, but would give the Cubs the ninth best record in baseball by the time the season was up. Of course, that total will still allow them to take the NL Central quite comfortably (six games over the Cardinals).

Baseball Prospectus also sees the Cubs winning 55 more games the rest of the way, which is third only to the Cleveland Indians (58) and Los Angeles Dodgers (58). But that’s sort of what’s frustrating about their start to the season and banked losses. The Cubs are on paper as good as the best teams in baseball, but they’re not playing like that and they’ve already dug themselves such a big hole. The only thing we can do is remind ourselves that the Cubs are still the favorites, and that’s the best position they can be in right now.

Let’s check back in on those playoff odds, starting with FanGraphs.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 76.7% (+9.3%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 82.5% (+1.5%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 11.4% (+0.8)

Well, then. Something positive!

After a mere 7-6 stretch of games, the Cubs’ odds of winning the division, reaching the postseason, and taking the World Series have gone up across the board! In fact, their odds of winning the central have downright skyrocketed. In all likelihood, the bump is related to the Cardinals’ brutal stretch, but regardless of the cause, that’s great to see. And hey, an 11.4% shot at winning the World Series is no longer the lowest of the division leaders!

There’s more:

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 54.5% (+4.8%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 59.4% (-0.7%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 7.3% (+0.3%)

Like FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus believes the Cubs odds of winning the division have actually ticked up a bit, despite the fact that their chances of reaching the postseason have actually dropped (which is a product of the NL Central being so much worse than the other two NL divisions). In other words, in the Central, it’s probably either win the division or bust.

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

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

Well how about that?

The Cubs moved up to No. 1 in walk rate, while holding pretty steady against the strikeout. They’re also hitting for more power, getting on base more often, and slugging more. Overall, the Cubs offensive prowess by both wOBA and wRC+ has improved. That’s actually really encouraging. After all, help may be coming on the pitching side (both internally (Kyle Hendricks heals up) and externally (a trade)), but the hitters the Cubs have now are probably the ones they’ll stick with.

And how about the pitching?

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

In most cases, the Cubs pitching staff is just holding the line – which isn’t great, but is better than the alternative. The most notable differences, however, are that they’ve improved their average against, which could be a sign that the defense is improving (please god, yes), and their K/BB ratio has increased, too.

So, to sum up, the Cubs offense is performing a lot better, the Cubs pitching is just slightly better, and their playoff odds have increased pretty significantly. For a 7-6 stretch of baseball that left the team still a game under .500, things could’ve been worse.

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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