Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Romantic Dance with .500 Continues

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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Romantic Dance with .500 Continues

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are .500. Shrug. That’s just who they are this season. So far, at least.

Fortunately, that doesn’t mean they can’t sneak into the playoffs and make some noise in October. It happens every single year.

Our last check-in came seventeen days ago (June 15) and preceded 17 straight games, including two series wins, two series splits, and a series loss. 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 9-8 against the Pirates (2-1), Padres (2-1), Marlins (2-2), Nationals (2-2), and Reds (1-2). Here are the standings as of the start of play today:

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: 44-40 (.524)
  2. Chicago Cubs: 41-41 (.500)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 39-42 (.481)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 37-45 (.451)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 35-46 (.432)

The order of the standings hasn’t changed since our last check in, with the Brewers somehow still managing to lead the division. Though, to be sure, July might be the perfect month for the Cubs to tackle that lead, given Eric Thames’ cold streak and the loss of starting pitcher Chase Anderson.

The Cubs’ winning percentage today (.500) is a little bit better than last time (.492), and a lot better than the check in before that (.481). You can’t argue that there’s been improvement, but I won’t blame you if you’re not overwhelmingly happy with a .500 record in July. If they continued at this pace for the rest of the year, they’d win, well, 81 games.

Since our last check, the Cubs’ run differential (+14) has increased by 11 runs, and, hey, it was up three runs the last time we checked in, too. Despite the increase, however, the Cubs didn’t move up in the relative rankings:

Take a look for yourself:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers: +153
  2. Houston Astros: +124
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks: +110
  4. New York Yankees: +104
  5. Washington Nationals: +92

  1. Chicago Cubs: +14

As for the rest of the division, the Brewers (+16) are just one spot ahead of the Cubs, but were among the top ten last time around. They are still the only team from the Central ahead of the Cubs, though the Cardinals (+2) rank 13th in MLB. The Pirates (-38) and Reds (-50) are still below 0.

The Cubs pitching staff has improved quite a bit since our last check-in. They’ve now allowed just 4.39 runs per game this season, compared to 4.62 the last time we checked in. That’s a pretty big gap to cover in just 17 games, and also ranks 8th best in baseball. The Cubs offense, on the other hand, has actually gotten worse. Their runs scored per game has gone from 4.68 to 4.56, and has dropped them down in the rankings from 17th to 19th.

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, which has basically been the case all season long. As far as what they deserve v. reality, the Cubs are doing just fine.

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), however, have the Cubs winning something between 41 games and 44 games, which is obviously a much bigger difference. If the Cubs had three more wins instead of losses right now, they’d be in first place in the division.

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to win 45 more games the rest of the season, bringing their season win total to 86 (one less than last time, two less than the time before that, and six less than the time before that). Even still, those 45 remaining wins is tied for the third highest total in baseball and would give the Cubs the 8th best record in baseball (4th best in the NL) by the end of the season.

Baseball Prospectus also pegs the Cubs for 45 more wins by the end of the year, also bringing their total to 86 by the end of the season. By this measure, only the Dodgers (47) and Indians (47) will win more games the rest of the way than the Cubs.

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

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 72.2% (-4.5%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 82.5% (-4.3%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 11.4% (-2.6%)

So, yeah, the Cubs odds of reaching the playoffs and succeeding once they’re there have taken a serious hit. But, with that said, they are still the clear favorites in the division. In fact, it’s the third place Cardinals (17.3%) not the first-place Brewers who have the second best shot, anyway.

But this is just one measure, let’s see what Baseball Prospectus has to say.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 56.0% (+1.5%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 61.1% (+1.7%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 6.3% (-1.0%)

Unlike FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus believes the Cubs odds of winning the division have actually ticked up a bit, despite the fact that their chances of winning the World Series have actually dropped. Even still, BP is clearly much lower on the Cubs than FanGraphs is.

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 have dropped out of the best walk rate in the league, but remain near the very top (3rd). And … that’s about all they’re doing right. In just about every other offensive statistics that matters, the Chicago Cubs are below average overall. If they do want to start winning games in the second half, the offense has to wake up … regardless of what the rotation does.

But speaking of the pitchers, how have they been doing?

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

I have to say, I’m pretty happy to see the Cubs average against trickling down week after week. That was a huge strength for them last season (due to a low BABIP, which was itself partly due to an excellent defense), so I’m hoping that trend continues.

Other than that, the pitching staff, as a whole, has done a pretty good job (walk rate aside). The bullpen is driving plenty of this, I’m sure, but still, not as bad as I think we all would have guessed.

Now let’s see if this turns into some actual wins.

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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