Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Reaching 90+ Wins is Realistically Back On the Table

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Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Reaching 90+ Wins is Realistically Back On the Table

Chicago Cubs

I truly don’t think I could’ve reasonably guessed that things would’ve gone THIS MUCH better for the Cubs in the second half of the season.

Since entering the All-Star Break at a season-low two games below .500, the Cubs have won 13 of their last 16 games, traded for arguably the most attractive (and cost-controlled) starting pitcher on the market, Jose Quintana, one of the better relievers (with over a year of control) in baseball this year, Justin Wilson, and arguably the top available catcher, Alex Avila.

And they did all of that without touching their Major League roster, while overtaking the Brewers for first place in the Central. I mean, wow. That’s a great couple of weeks, right?

Our last check-in came eleven days ago (July 3), when the Cubs were just at the beginning of a dominant stretch of baseball. So 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 7-3 against the Cardinals (2-1), White Sox (3-1), and Brewers (2-1). They have not lost a series in the second half of the season and have created their biggest first-place lead of the year.

Here are the standings as of the start of play today (all stats are also as of the start of play today):

  1. Chicago Cubs: 56-48 (.538)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 55-52 (.514)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 52-53 (.495)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 51-54 (.486)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 42-63 (.400)

The Cubs and Brewers flipped spots in the standings, while the Cardinals and Pirates have done the same. The Cubs now lead the division by 2.5 games, though they have a four-game lead in the loss column over the Brewers.

As for all of the winning …. This off-day check-in is our fifth since all the way back on June 1. And the Cubs’ winning percentage since then has increased at every turn. Today, it stands at .538 (largest of the season), which is well above the .481 mark they were rocking just two months ago.

Since our last check, the Cubs’ run differential (+36) has increased by 9 runs, and it was up 13 runs the last time we checked in (and 11 the time before that). And with those back-to-back-to-back bumps, the Cubs have moved up yet another spot in the rankings.

Take a look for yourself:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers: +185
  2. Houston Astros: +161
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks: +124
  4. Washington Nationals: +115
  5. New York Yankees: +115

  1. Chicago Cubs: +36

The Cubs have the fifth best run differential in the National League. Now we’re getting somewhere. And as for the rest of the division, the Brewers (+23) have officially fallen behind not just the Cubs, but also the Cardinals (+24) overall. Together, those three teams are 9th, 10th, and 11th overall in baseball. The Pirates, on the other hand, have a -24 run differential and the Reds’ -98 run differential is the third worst in MLB.

The Cubs pitching staff has allowed just 4.31 runs per game as of today (8th best in MLB), which is down (in a good way) from the 4.43 mark they posted last time. The starting staff, in particular, has look great in the second half and it’s nice to see them back up in the top ten of run prevention.

The Cubs’ run scoring, on the other hand, is actually down to 4.65 runs per game (from 4.71 last time). Of course, that has a lot to do with a slow offensive series in Milwaukee, wherein they scored just seven runs over three games. They’ll be fine.

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 are just about where they should be in terms of expected wins and losses. And, for what it’s worth, that’s been the case for most of the year. And while you can always hope for a little extra luck at some point, there’s nothing wrong with not being unlucky, too.

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), however, have the Cubs winning something between 55 games and 59 games, which is obviously a much bigger difference. But again, given the highs and lows, this Cubs team is almost exactly where it should be.

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to win 34 more games the rest of the season, which is tied for the most remaining wins in baseball and … brings their end of season total back into the 90s! That is awesome. According to FanGraphs, the Cubs’ 90 wins will be the fifth most in baseball (3rd most in the NL) by the end of the year.

Baseball Prospectus pegs the Cubs for 33 more wins by the end of the year, bringing their total to 89. Last time we did this, the Cubs were projected to win just 88 games, so this is a nice, small bump. All things considered, you’ve got to be thrilled with how the Cubs have repositioned themselves for success in the second half.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 89.4% (+8.9%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 93.1% (+5.6%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 14.3% (+1.8%)

Hey now!

The Chicago Cubs chances of winning the division this year have increased by nearly 20 percentage points from just two check-ins ago. That is unbelievable. And how about that 14.3% shot at winning the World Series. Around this time last year, the Cubs led the league with a ~17% shot at winning the World Series. Only the Indians, Astros, and Dodgers have a better shot now.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 78.5% (+16.8%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 83.4% (+13.9%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 8.2% (+1.3%)

Baseball Prospectus isn’t quite as optimistic as FanGraphs, but they, too, have forecast an enormous leap in the odds. By blending these two projections, the Cubs have roughly an 85% shot of winning the division and something like an 11% shot of winning the World Series.

Again, although this is usually the spot where I compare the Cubs to their former, full-season selves and the rest of the league, I’m going to stick with their stats and rankings in the second half alone. I think it tells a slightly more current story.

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

Walk Rate: 8.8% (Today: 11th, Last: 14th)
Strikeout Rate: 21.2% (Today: 11th, Last: 6th)
ISO: .217 (Today: T-2nd, Last: 1st)
AVG: .272 (Today: 12th, Last: 2nd)
OBP: .344 (Today: 10th, Last: 3rd)
SLG: .488 (Today: 6th, Last: 1st)
wOBA: .350 (Today: 8th, Last: 2nd)
wRC+: 114 (Today: 8th, Last: 2nd)
Position Player War: 3.7 (Today: T-2nd, Last Time: 1st)

Okay, sure, the Cubs have fallen a bit in most of these statistics, but the bottom line is the same: they’re doing really, really well. By nearly every standard, the Cubs are fielding a top ten offense in all of baseball, and their positional group has been worth the second most WAR in all of baseball (tied with the Royals). There’s just nothing here to be nervous or upset about, these guys are clicking.

But how about those pitchers?

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

ERA: 2.98 (Today: 3rd, Last: 6th)
FIP: 4.07 (Today: 13th, Last: 11th)
xFIP: 4.05 (Today: 10th, Last: 9th)
K-rate: 24.6% (Today: 5th, Last: 11th)
BB-rate: 8.4% (Today: 16th, Last 17th)
K/BB: 2.94 (Today: 9th, Last: 13th)
AVG: .197 (Today: 1st, Last: 1st)

The Cubs’ pitchers biggest issue is clearly command, as their 8.4% walk rate continues to sit in the bottom half of the league. However, because of a top 5 strikeout rate and the lowest batting average against in all of baseball, their ERA remains among the absolute best in the second half of the season.

Like the offense, the Cubs pitchers aren’t elite, but they are among the top ten in baseball. Of course, as Jose Quintana gets more starts and Justin Wilson gets more chances in the pen, I suspect these numbers will improve the next time we check in.

Up Next: The Cubs will be at home for six straight this week/weekend, however, those six are coming against two of the best teams in baseball (the Diamondbacks and Nationals). Hopefully, they can keep up this momentum and create some real space in the Central. We’ll see.

Author: Michael Cerami

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