Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Division is the Cubs' for the Taking

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Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Division is the Cubs’ for the Taking

Chicago Cubs

It’s funny how this game can change on you in a hurry.

The last time we did one of these off-day check-ins, the title of the post was “Buckle Up, It’s Going to Be a Bumpy Ride.” Of course, since then things, have gone pretty well for the Cubs.

More specifically, they beat the Diamondbacks in two out of three (2-1), split a four-gamer with the Reds (2-2), and swept the Toronto Blue Jays in three straight (3-0). That’s a 7-3 record in their past ten games. Not bad, Cubs. Not bad at all.

So now that we’re up to date on the outcomes, let’s do what we do, and 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.

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

  1. Chicago Cubs: 66-57 (.537)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 65-60 (.520)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 63-61 (.508)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 60-64 (.484)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 53-72 (.424)

Over the past ten games, the Cubs have increased their overall season winning percentage from .522 to .537. They’ve also built a 2.0 game lead over the Brewers, a 3.5 game lead over the Cardinals, and a really nice 6.5 game lead over the Pirates.

More than that, the Cubs’ run differential (+54) has improved by 18 runs, which propelled them above the Cardinals and into the top eight in all of baseball:

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers: +215
  2. Houston Astros: +161
  3. Washington Nationals: +132
  4. Cleveland Indians: 130
  5. New York Yankees: +111

  1. Chicago Cubs: +54
  2. Colorado Rockies: +50
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: +48

The Cubs’ run differential is eighth best in MLB, fourth best in the National League, and the best in their own division. In other words, things aren’t just going their way; they’re earning it. And as for the rest of the NL Central, the Brewers (+20) have fallen two spots behind the Cardinals, while the Pirates (-41) and Reds (-100) continue to toil away.

Breaking this down, the Cubs pitching staff has allowed slightly more runs per game than last time (4.37 to 4.41), but I’m willing to bet that has more to do with the recent bullpen implosions than anything else (which is comforting because it’s not a trend I expect to continue). The Cubs’ run scoring is up a lot this time (from 4.69 runs per game to 4.85), and now ranks 8th best in baseball, despite being just 12th best last time around.

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

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 should have about 1-2 more wins than they do right now, though the difference could be much bigger than that (The Yankees, for one extreme example, should have won about 7 more games than they have this season. Yikes).

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), however, have the Cubs winning something between 66 games and 71 (!) games, which is obviously a bit more optimistic. How good would five extra notches in the win column look right about now?

According to FanGraphs, the Cubs should win 23 more games the rest of the way, which is tied for the third most in baseball with the Red Sox (and behind only the Indians and Dodgers). With 23 more wins, the Cubs would finish the season at 89-73 (3rd best in NL, 6th best in baseball).

Baseball Prospectus, on the other hand, projects the Cubs to win 22 more games the rest of the way, which is once again behind the Dodgers and Indians, and tied with the Astros and (this time) Nationals.

But, hey, it’s late into the season, let’s check out some odds and see where things actually stand.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 86.6% (+8.9%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 93.2% (+10.1%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 13.4% (+1.2%)

NOW we’re talking.

After a nice stretch of games, in which the Cubs padded their first-place lead and (probably) saw one team drop out of the race (Pirates), FanGraphs is getting more and more optimistic about the Cubs chances at winning the division. With that said, the Cubs’ 86.6% mark is actually the lowest divisional odds in all of baseball, with pretty much every other division all but wrapped up. Even still, you gotta love the Cubs chances from where we sit today.

Does Baseball Prospectus agree?

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 74.6% (+12.1%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 84.2% (+16.7%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 7.4% (+1.2%)

BP has also recorded huge jumps in the Cubs chances of winning since the last time we’ve checked in, though it’s worth pointing out that their algorithms still see this as much more of a race than FanGraphs’. In any case, the Cubs do seem to have a pretty good shot at the postseason, as far as the projections go.

Now let’s take a peek at those statistics (today’s ranking, previous ranking):

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics

Walk Rate: 9.6% (3rd, 4th)
Strikeout Rate: 22.2% (19th, 18th)
ISO: .188 (7th, 6th)
AVG: .250 (20th, 23rd)
OBP: .333 (9th, 11th)
SLG: .438 (12th, 11th)
wOBA: .328 (8th, 9th)
wRC+: 99 (9th, 12th)
Position Player War: 19.8 (4th)

As you can see by the improvements in wOBA, wRC+, and (to an extent) WAR, the Cubs are a better overall offensive team this time around by a fair amount. Indeed, they’ve improved in every single statistic besides strikeout rate (their relative ranking for ISO and SLG has gone down, but the numbers have gone up), while continuing to be a really strong defensive team.

But how about those pitchers?

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

ERA: 4.01 (8th, 7th)
FIP: 4.25 (12th, 11th)
xFIP: 4.16 (9th, 9th)
K-rate: 23.2% (8th, 8th)
BB-rate: 9.3% (27th, 25th)
K/BB: 2.48 (14th, 11th)
AVG: .234 (3rd, 3rd)
Soft-Contact: 20.3% (3rd, 4th)
Hard-Contact: 30.6% (7th, 10th)

As expected, the Cubs pitching staff’s overall numbers have gotten worse, thanks primarily to too many walks. On the bright side, their contact management has improved a great deal, which could help to limit the damage of those free passes. But still, a bottom 5 walk rate is just not going to work.

Up Next: Starting tomorrow, the Cubs will play in 20(!) straight games, though all but three of them (Brewers) are against sub-.500 teams (Reds, Phillies, Pirates, Braves, Pirates, Brewers). That’s a lot of games in a row, but all things considered, it’s not a terrible stretch in terms of competition.

And after that, well, it’s more of the same:

This division is the Cubs’ for the taking.

Author: Michael Cerami

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