Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Odds Improve as We Head Down the Stretch

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Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: The Odds Improve as We Head Down the Stretch

Chicago Cubs

It sure seems like the Cubs enjoy losing just before an off-day, making these check-ins a real blast for everyone, but it’s actually a lot closer than you might think.

Since the start of the season, the Cubs are nearly even (8-7) in the games that come directly before an off-day. That’s good for a .533 winning percentage, which is actually good deal lower than their season .577 mark. So, you know, yeah, the Cubs have been slightly worse just before a break than they are in general. Probably just a fluke, right?

Here’s an updated look at the standings as of the start of play today:

  1. Chicago Cubs: 71-52
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 69-57 (3.5 GB)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 68-57 (4.0 GB)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 63-62 (9.0 GB)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 55-69 (16.5 GB)

Since our last check-in (August 9th), the Cubs took two of three from the Nationals (2-1), and split their six total games against the Brewers (1-1) and Pirates (2-2). Obviously, a 5-4 stretch isn’t anything to get excited about, but when you consider the time of year, it’s not really all that bad. The Cubs are still in first place with just over a month to go and a five-game lead in the loss column.

But given the way the team has played lately, I won’t blame you for feeling antsy. After all, they have been dropping in the run differential department:

  1. Houston Astros: +216
  2. Boston Red Sox: +200
  3. New York Yankees: +148
  4. Cleveland Indians: +138
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers: +113
  6. Chicago Cubs: +89
  7. Atlanta Braves: +85
  8. Arizona Diamondbacks: +81
  9. Oakland Athletics: +67
  10. Washington Nationals: +59

For the first time all season (I believe), the Cubs don’t own the top run differential in the National League. They’ve also dropped from +96 last time to +89 this time. That might be “yikes” but it’s not surprising.

Three check-ins ago, the Cubs had an average of 5.12 runs scored per game. Two times ago it was 5.02. Last time, it was 4.96 runs/game. Today, it’s down to 4.78 runs/game, seventh in MLB and second in the NL to the Braves. On the bright side, the Cubs have improved the number of runs allowed per game from 4.11 to 4.06. That’s not an irrelevant drop (and probably not entirely unrelated to Cole Hamels, if I had to guess).

The good news, I guess, is that the Cubs overall record is exactly on pace with what you’d expect out of a team with these numbers:

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.

And the Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus more or less agree.

As for the rest of the season, FanGraphs is projecting the Cubs to go 22-17 the rest of the way, which is only slightly behind the Dodgers (22-15) in the National League and fifth most wins remaining overall. If that is indeed the way things play out, the Cubs will wind up with a 93-69 final record, leading the National League.

But what about the playoff odds since the last check-in?

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 85.7% (+8.5%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 97.0% (+1.7)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 10.8% (+2.1)

Standing pat – relative to the other teams in your division – at this time of the year is good news in a sense. The Cubs probably could’ve put this race away already, but the Cardinals and Brewers are slowly running out of time.

Here’s some more odds, for context:

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 76.9% (+6.1) 
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 94.2% (+1.5)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 12.4% (+0.1)

BP is not quite as high on the Cubs’ chances in the NL Central, but it could certainly be worse. And, hey, they have the highest odds of winning their division as any team in the NL. So that’s something.

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics (Ranking Today, Previous)

Walk Rate: 9.5%  (T-4th, 5th)
Strikeout Rate: 21.2% (10th, 10th)
ISO: .155 (21st, T-18th)
AVG: .262 (2nd, 2nd)
OBP: .340 (1st, 1st)
SLG: .417 (11th, 9th)
wOBA: .326 (5th, 4th)
wRC+: 102 (8th, T-6th)
Position Player War: 22.6 (3rd, 1st)

Despite being at that point in the season when significant changes in the rankings can become very difficult, the Cubs ISO dropped three spots relative to the rest of the league. Their lack of power is not unrelated to Kris Bryant’s absence, but it might have to improve without him for the time being. At least their still hitting for average and getting on base. And, hey, their wOBA is still tops in the NL. That’s something.

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

ERA: 3.77 (8th, 8th)
FIP: 4.32 (21st, 21st)
K-rate: 21.1% (19th, 21st)
BB-rate: 10.5% (T-30th, T-29th)
K/BB: 2.01 (29th, 29th)
AVG: .236 (T-9th, 9th)
GB-rate: 45.4% (T-3rd, 4th)
Soft-Contact: 18.8% (12th, 11th)
Hard-Contact: 32.0 (7th, 7th)
Pitching Staff WAR: 7.7 (22nd, 24th)

The Cubs pitching staff has mostly held it’s ground lately and basically is what it is at this point. The only scary thing is that what happens next (with Yu Darvish’s status up in the air, Mike Montgomery on the shelf, Drew Smyly not close to returning, and Tyler Chatwood not in anyone’s plans)?

Up Next: The Cubs will play two games against the Tigers on the road before coming home for seven straight against the Reds and Mets. They head on the road for a long stretch after that, as the Cubs are staring down the barrel of 23 games in 23 days. It’ll be the defining stretch of their season (they play the Brewers six times), so let’s see if they can lock it down.

Author: Michael Cerami

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