It feels a bit strange to do the off-day check-in with rumors flying left and right, but we haven’t done one since July 5, so we’ve got to get to it at some point, right? [Brett: Also, um, sorry for not getting this up until this morning.]
Thanks to the All-Star break, it’s been 25 days (21 games) since our last check-in, and the Cubs have done pretty well for themselves during that stretch. Starting from the beginning, they beat the Reds in three (2-1), dropped a series to the Giants (1-2), swept the Padres (3-0), took three of five from the Cardinals (3-2), split a four-gamer with the Diamondbacks (2-2), and lost a series to the Cardinals (1-2)
Altogether, then, they went 12-9 during this stretch. And while the Cubs, now 61-44, were at one point 18-games over .500 with a 3.5 game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central, they are still in first place, which is not something they could say the last time around. Here’s an updated look at the standings entering play today.
- Chicago Cubs: 61-44 (.581)
- Milwaukee Brewers: 61-47 (.565)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 55-52 (.514)
- St. Louis Cardinals: 53-52 (.505)
- Cincinnati Reds: 48-58 (.453)
The Cubs currently hold a 1.5 game lead over the Brewers in the NL Central and a 7.0 game lead over the third-place Pirates. The Cardinals had a shot at being just six games behind, but because they lost the last game of their Cubs/Cards series over the weekend, they’re still 8.0 games back in a distant fourth place. If the Cubs won at this pace for the entire season, they’d finish with 94 wins … but we’ll get into the projections in a second.
First, let’s take a look at the Cubs’ run differential, which …
- Houston Astros: +179
- Boston Red Sox: +177
- New York Yankees: +136
- Chicago Cubs: +99
- Los Angeles Dodgers: +95
- Cleveland Indians: +94
- Arizona Diamondbacks: +64
- Atlanta Braves: +62
- Milwaukee Brewers: +49
- Washington Nationals: +38
Although the Cubs remain among the top five teams overall and best in the National League by run differential, they actually took a step backwards during this stretch, and are in a clear tier down from the Astros/Red Sox/Yankees.
Indeed, their 5.02 runs score per game is down from our last check-in (5.12 RS/G), but still fourth in MLB and tops in the NL. Meanwhile, their runs allowed per game has taken a MASSIVE hit. What was once 3.88 RA/G on July 5th is now 4.08. They only dropped one spot in the rankings (from seventh to eighth), but that’s obviously quite a dramatic change. The Cubs have added Jesse Chavez and Cole Hamels since our last check-in, but Yu Darvish is as far away as ever and Brandon Morrow is back on the DL. Needless to say, if the Cubs pitching was performing as expected, this might be an entirely different team.
In any case, where does that leave the Cubs’ expected record? Well, according to two different measures, the Cubs are right about where they 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.
Maybe they should’ve squeezed an extra win or two out of their performance, but mostly things have gone as expected. Meanwhile, the Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus (based on different layers of underlying performance), also have the Cubs winning something between 61.0 and 62.7 games this season. So, pretty much anyway you slice it, they’ve basically been luck neutral.
As for the rest of the season, FanGraphs is projecting the Cubs to win 31 more games this season, which is actually not the most in the National League. That honor belongs to the … Nationals, who might just be about to sell. Shrug. Being good on paper clearly isn’t everything. But if we allow ourselves to trust the Cubs projections for a moment, we learn that with 31 more wins they’ll finish as the best team in the National League. Can you ask for much more than that?
NOTE: Both the Cubs and Brewers could make significant roster changes before the season is through, and that could throw this all off.
- Chances of winning the division: 82.3% (+6.5)
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 96.5% (+1.9)
- Chances of winning the World Series: 9.6% (-1.3)
Hey, how about that? According to FanGraphs, the Cubs have more than a 9/10 shot of playing at least one playoff game this October and more than an 8/10 shot in playing at least three. I like those odds.
Here’s some more odds, for context:
- Chances of winning the division: 75.1% (+15.9)
- Chances of reaching the playoffs: 94.3% (+2.9)
- Chances of winning the World Series: 13.0% (-0.2)
Well, alright! Now we’re getting somewhere. This long stretch since just before the All-Star break might not have felt like much, but the Cubs did take over first and are now boasting their best playoff odds of the season. Could it have gone better? Sure. Should we be okay with where they are right now? Absolutely.
Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics (Ranking Today, Previous)
Walk Rate: 9.7% (T-4th, 5th)
Strikeout Rate: 21.1% (T-9th, 10th)
ISO: .158 (T-19th, 13th)
AVG: .266 (1st, T-1st)
OBP: .345 (1st, 1st)
SLG: .423 (9th, 6th)
wOBA: .331 (4th, 3rd)
wRC+: 105 (t-5th, t-4th)
Position Player War: 22.1 (1st, 1st)
Although the Cubs are still the best in baseball at hitting for average and getting on base (and, as we can see by their league-leading WAR total, running the bases and playing defense), there’s plenty here to dislike. Most notable, they continue to be a power-less franchise. For as many great hitters as there are on this team, having the 19th best ISO is not really going to cut it. Hopefully, Kris Bryant comes back healthy soon, Anthony Rizzo keeps up his latest blisteringly hot streak, and Willson Contreras turns it way up as we head down the stretch.
Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics
ERA: 3.76 (7th, 6th)
FIP: 4.38 (23rd, 20th)
xFIP: 4.41 (24th, 22nd)
K-rate: 21.1% (T-20th, 18th)
BB-rate: 11.0% (30th, 30th)
K/BB: 1.92 (29th, 29th)
AVG: .233 (8th, 5th)
GB-rate: 45.2% (4th, 2nd)
Soft-Contact: 18.8% (T-13th, 7th)
Hard-Contact: 32.7 (7th, 7th)
Pitching Staff WAR: 5.7 (24th, 18th)
There’s not much to say about the Cubs pitching staff that hasn’t already been said. They’ve barely been skating by (in the results department) all season, but even now their ERA jumped from 3.56 to 3.76 in just 21 games. Even the things they used to be the best at (soft contact, ground balls, etc.) has begun to drift away as they try, desperately, to find some stabilization.
There are reasons for optimism (getting Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow back, revitalizing Cole Hamels, knowing that Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana can both pitch more than two good games in a row, etc.), but for now, things don’t look as good as they could. At least Jesse Chavez has been fantastic … right?
Up Next: After a quick two-game set against the Pirates, the Cubs actually have a very winnable stretch. They’ll play four against the Padres, three against the Royals and three against the Nationals before stopping a tough two-gamer against the Brewers. They should be able to grab at least 7 of those 12 games, in my opinion, which could set them up nicely for their stretch run. Time to do it.