Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: When's the Earliest They Can Clinch?

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Chicago Cubs Off-Day Check-In: When’s the Earliest They Can Clinch?

Chicago Cubs

As we all know well by now, it’s been a long, long time since the Cubs have had a scheduled off-day like today, which means it’s been equally as long since our last off-day check-in. Boy do we have a lot to catch up on.

Since our last check-in on August 20th, the Cubs have gone an impressive 18-11. They began the stretch by splitting a two-gamer against the Tigers (1-1), sweeping the Reds in four (4-0), beating the Mets in a best of three (2-1), and taking a W in the one-game makeup against the Braves (1-0). After that, they beat the Phillies (2-1), lost to the Brewers (1-2), Nationals (1-2), and Brewers again (1-2), before winning a makeup against the Nationals (1-0), and beating the Reds (2-1) and Diamondbacks (2-1) in three-game sets. *takes a deep breath*

When they started this madness, they were 2.5 games up on the Brewers and as of today, that lead has changed … not at all:

  1. Chicago Cubs: 89-63
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: 87-66 (2.5 GB)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals: 84-69 (5.5 GB)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 77-74 (11.5 GB)
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 65-88 (24.5 GB)

There was a time during this stretch, when the Cubs lead in the NL Central was as high as five games (September 2nd) and as low as one game (September 10th), but the Cubs never gave up their position, even as the Brewers tied them in the win column. That’s some seriously resilience. Of course, the Cubs probably also could’ve put this race to rest with 1-2 more wins split between those six games, but that just didn’t happen. So here we are, with a race still technically on hand.

With that said, the Cubs remain one of the best teams in baseball by run differential. There may not be a ton of time for that to matter (in terms of “you can expect better results in the future!), but it shows they’re still a high quality team.

Indeed, during our last check in, the Cubs differential was just +89, but today – after last night’s 0-9 loss, it sits at 112.

  1. Houston Astros: +242
  2. Boston Red Sox: +211
  3. New York Yankees: +167
  4. Cleveland Indians: +157
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers: +156
  6. Oakland Athletics: +116
  7. Chicago Cubs: +112
  8. Atlanta Braves: +92
  9. Tampa Bay Rays: +78
  10. Washington Nationals: +78

The Cubs are still the second-best team in the NL by run differential, and among the top ten overall. They’re also in a clear tier above the Braves, Rays, and Nationals, so they’re clearly doing some good stuff.

Sadly (though this should be a surprise to exactly no one) the Cubs runs scored per game has dropped AGAIN from 4.78 to 4.68. That’s still a top-10 mark, but it’s behind the Nationals, Cardinals, Braves, and Dodgers in the NL. Where you go, offense? On the bright side, the Cubs have improved the number of runs allowed per game from 4.06 to 3.95! They are one of just six teams to boast a number below 4.00 and are fifth best in MLB by this measure. That’s not bad.

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.

FINALLY, the Cubs are a “lucky” team. I’ve gotta say, I’ve been doing these posts on just about every off-day for three years, and the Cubs are almost always neutral or unlucky (i.e. the differential says they should’ve won more games than they have). Obviously, that’s a better position to be in, because it means more for your immediate future than the alternative, but here at the end of the year? Nah. Give me all the lucky wins you got.

And the Adjusted Standings at Baseball Prospectus more or less agree, having the Cubs anywhere between 86.6 and 89 wins.

As for the rest of the season, FanGraphs is projecting the Cubs to go 6-4 the rest of the way, which is the best mark in the National League and would leave them with 95 wins (also most in the NL). The Brewers, for what it’s worth, are expected to finish 5-4, three games behind the Cubs.

What does that mean for the playoff odds? I’m glad you asked:

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (FanGraphs)

  • Chances of winning the division: 90.9% (+5.2%)
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 100% (+3.0%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 9.0% (-1.8%)

The Brewers might’ve kept pace with the Cubs since the start of this length stretch of games, but with little time remaining, their position has worsened. The Cubs now have a 9/10 chance of winning the NL Central, and at this point, you can’t ask for much more. NOTE: The 100% chance of reaching the playoffs does not mean the Cubs have clinched a Wild Card spot just yet (their magic number for that is just 4 though).

Here’s some more odds, for context:

Chicago Cubs Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus):

  • Chances of winning the division: 90.4% (+13.5%) 
  • Chances of reaching the playoffs: 100% (+5.8%)
  • Chances of winning the World Series: 10.7% (-1.7%)

BP has very similar numbers to FanGraphs, and this close to the season, it’s not much of a surprise.

Chicago Cubs Offensive Statistics (Ranking Today, Previous)

Walk Rate: 9.1%  (8th, T-4th)
Strikeout Rate: 21.9% (12th, 10th)
ISO: .154 (20th, 21st)
AVG: .259 (3rd, 2nd)
OBP: .334 (2nd, 1st)
SLG: .413 (13th, 11th)
wOBA: .322 (9th, 5th)
wRC+: 100 (11th, 8th)
Position Player War: 26.7 (3rd, 3rd)

I must admit, although I expected the Cubs overall offense to take a drop during this stretch, I didn’t quite realize how badly their walk rate would fall/has fallen. And I didn’t anticipate their drop down behind the Red Sox for the top OBP in baseball, either. The offense has looked a little better lately, but there’s no doubt this was a rough stretch of games.

Chicago Cubs Pitching Statistics

ERA: 3.65 (4th, 8th)
FIP: 4.16 (19th, 21st)
K-rate: 21.1% (19th, 21st)
BB-rate: 10.1% (28th, T-30th)
K/BB: 2.12 (26th, 29th)
AVG: .235 (T-8th, T-9th)
GB-rate: 44.7% (6th, T-3rd)
Soft-Contact: 19.0% (9th, 12th)
Hard-Contact: 31.5 (6th, 7th)
Pitching Staff WAR: 11.7 (19th, 22nd)

The Cubs didn’t make any one big jump over this stretch, but a few improvements here and there (particularly in the K/BB department) helped drop their FIP from 4.32 to 4.16. That’s a pretty noteworthy difference. Hopefully, the improved performance out of the rotation continues to carry some weight in the absence of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, and Pedro Strop.

Up Next: The Cubs have just 10 games remaining this season, three against the White Sox, four against the Pirates, and three against the Cardinals. The absolute earliest they could clinch is Monday night, but that would only be if the Cubs won the next four games and the Brewers lost the next four. So I wouldn’t necessarily count on it. Instead, here’s a simple tool to help you figure out how things can play out from here. 

Author: Michael Cerami

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