Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Despite Our Feelings, the Playoff Odds Have Improved

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Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: Despite Our Feelings, the Playoff Odds Have Improved

Chicago Cubs

For a second there, I thought this off-day check-in was going to be a blast. But after dropping the last two games against Colorado, and scoring almost no runs over the past week-plus, I’m not so sure. Let’s see …

The Cubs have played 9 games since our last check-in, seven of which have come at home. Working backwards, the Cubs lost their series against the Rockies (1-2), swept the Brewers in four (4-0), and split their two games in Cleveland (1-1). So, yeah, their record over this stretch is solid (6-3), but there were a lot of close games in this one. A few bounces here or there and we could’ve been downright miserable right now.

Here’s a look at the NL Central standings entering play today:

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: 19-13 (.594)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals: 17-12 (.586)
  3. Chicago Cubs: 16-12 (.571)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 17-14 (.548)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 7-24 (.226)

The Cubs’ sole possession of first place was brief, because, apparently, only they are capable of beating the Brewers (the Cubs are responsible for 7 of their 9 loses so far). Meanwhile, the Cardinals continue playing solid baseball, as do the Pirates. It was a lot more fun when everyone but the Cubs sucked.

At least their run differential is still pretty good, and slightly better than the last time we checked in:

  1. Boston Red Sox: +63
  2. Houston Astros: +59
  3. New York Yankees: +54
  4. Atlanta Braves: +46
  5. Arizona Diamondbacks: +42
  6. Toronto Blue Jays: +28
  7. St. Louis Cardinals: +27
  8. Chicago Cubs: +25 (up 1)
  9. Washington Nationals: +18
  10. Philadelphia Phillies: +18

The Cubs still have one of the top ten run differentials in baseball and one of the top five differentials in the National League. The Cardinals are still ahead of them, as they were last time, but they made no progress forward (+0).

Of course, that differential isn’t exactly equally balanced. As I’m sure you can imagine, the Cubs runs’ scored/game has taken a relative nose dive from 5.79 to 4.86. That’s still good for second best in the National League and sixth best in baseball, but the figure is just 2.00 runs/game over their past eight games. Ouch.

On the bright side, the Cubs had been allowing 4.53 runs per game during our last check-in, which ranked in the bottom half of the league, but now that number has dropped all the way down to 3.96 runs/game, which is seventh best in baseball. And, hey, that’s including the 11 runs the Rockies posted yesterday! Now if the offense and defense could just get on the same page at the same time …

As of today, the Cubs’ actual record, according to two different measures, is right about where it should be:

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 over a long enough horizon.

According to those two numbers, the Cubs’ 16-12 start to the season is just about right.

The Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), have the Cubs winning something between 15 games and 16.6 games. So, again, yeah, no bad luck, no good luck. They’re right where they’re supposed to be.

As for the rest of the season … According to FanGraphs, the Cubs are projected to go 76-58 the rest of the way, which is actually the highest projected winning percentage in the National League, and behind only the Astros, Yankees, Red Sox, and Indians overall. That would leave them with a 92-70 record at year’s end, which ranks exactly the same.

Which is a perfect lead into our next section: Playoff odds.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 69.3% (+4.3)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 91.2% (+1.3)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 11.1% (+0.5)

You might feel down about the offense and the crappy, back-to-back losses, but the Cubs’ playoff odds have actually gone up over this stretch of games. They now have a near-70% chance of winning the NL Central, and over a 90% chance of playing meaningful baseball in October. This is all still lower than their preseason odds, but we’re getting back up to those levels slowly.

Baseball Prospectus’s number crunching has a position, too, and they’re not quite as optimistic, but they’ve also gone up.

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 46.0% (+5.9) 
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 61.6% (+9.4)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 9.1% (+1.3)

I’m still not thrilled their chances of winning the division are lower than 50% – by any measure – but it’s hard to be disappointed with improvements. The Cubs are better off now than they were a couple weeks ago. Another couple weeks of improvement like that and everything will look plenty rosy.

Now it’s time to take a look at some statistics and rankings.

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics (Ranking Today, Previous)

Walk Rate: 8.4% (16th, 10th)
Strikeout Rate: 22.0% (11th, 9th)
ISO: .162 (13th, 9th)
AVG: .244 (13th, 5th)
OBP: .324 (11th, 1st)
SLG: .406 (12th, 6th)
wOBA: .318 (12th, 4th)
wRC+: 99 (14th, 4th)
Position Player War: 4.8 (8th, 3rd)

Yowsa. Nosedive. What is there to say? The Cubs have dropped down towards the middle of the pack in just about every offensive category, the most frightening of which is their drop out of the top in on-base percentage, after previously leading the league. At some point, Anthony Rizzo will have to get going, because I think his ice-cold start to the season probably has meant more to this offense than any other single player in either direction.

But at least the pitchers have tightening things up, yesterday’s Yu Darvish start notwithstanding. Indeed, they’re the only reason the Cubs have a winning record in this stretch, and they’ve earned some praise.

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

ERA: 3.48 (8th, 17th)
FIP: 4.21 (18th, 18th)
xFIP: 4.17 (17th, 21st)
K-rate: 22.3% (19th, 21st)
BB-rate: 11.0% (28th, 28th)
K/BB: 2.03 (27th, 28th)
AVG: .225 (7th, 15th)
Soft-Contact: 22.1% (3rd, 1st)
Hard-Contact: 28.4% (2nd, 3rd)
Pitching Staff WAR: 1.7 (22nd, 24th)

It’s funny how quick a script can completely flip, eh? The last time we checked in, the offense was leading the way, and the pitching staff had been pretty terrible. The pitching, however, has made some massive improvements since then. Even their walk rate, which still ranks among the worst in baseball, has improved by nearly a percentage point since last time around. They’re still not where they can be overall, but they’ve gotten a whole lot better.

And best of all, the Cubs are still managing contact better than just about every other team. Keep doing that and improve the walk rate, and the pitching staff can continue to lead the resurgence.

Up Next: The Cubs are heading to St. Louis for a three-game series against the Cardinals before returning home for three against the Marlins, three against the White Sox, and a make-up game against the Braves.



Author: Michael Cerami

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