After getting out to their best start since … 1907, the Chicago Cubs (13-3) have taken their preseason playoff odds from 64.2% all the way up to 98.3% here on August 14th. Of course, the playoff expansion from five teams to eight teams in each league did some of the leg work, but still …
… They own the NL Central right now:
1. Chicago Cubs: 13-3 (.813)
2. Cincinnati Reds: 8-11 (.421)
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 7-10 (.412)
4. St. Louis Cardinals: 2-3 (.400)
5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 4-13 (.235)
And narratively, it checks out: The Pirates aren’t going anywhere this year, the Cardinals will play without starter Miles Mikolas (forearm) or closer Jordan Hicks (opt out) for the entire season – to say nothing of their lengthy layoff and absurd schedule from here on out – the Brewers have gotten off to a slow start and will play the season without starting center fielder Lorenzo Cain, and the Reds haven’t quite lived up to their lofty expectations (though they have admittedly had some great performances out of the rotation and on offense).
But like I said, with eight teams set to make the playoffs in each league (16 teams overall), the Cubs are hardly the only organization with big-time playoff projections through a quarter of the season. The Yankees (98.8%), Dodgers (98.3), Athletics (97.2%), and Twins (96.1%) are all way up there in the upper-90s, while the Indians (84.9%), Padres (84.3%), Braves (83.0%), and Astros (82.4%) are all up over 80%.
Where the Cubs stand out, however, is their chances of winning their division. And that actually does kind of matter.
Division-Winning Odds Leaderboard:
1. Chicago Cubs: 81.8%
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 75.0%
3. Oakland Athletics: 71.0%
4. New York Yankees: 63.5%
4. Minnesota Twins: 59.5%
3. Atlanta Braves: 49.4%
According to FanGraphs projections, the Cubs odds of winning the NL Central are up at 81.8%, nearly 7 percentage points greater than the second-place Dodgers, and WELL above anyone else in the division: Cardinals (7.7%), Reds (5.9%), Brewers (4.6%), Pirates (0.0%).
And that matters, of course, because the playoffs are going to look a heck of a lot different this year. What was previously a one-game Wild Card playoff, followed by the five-game NLDS, seven-game NLCS, and seven-game World Series is now going to be a three-game first round for all eight teams, followed by the five-game NLDS, seven-game NLCS, and seven-game World Series.
Moreover, the winners of each division will be given home field advantage for *all three games* of this newly crafted first round. Seeing as Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and Jon Lester are likely the three guys you’d roll out for that round, I’d say that’s a pretty important advantage to secure, particularly for the presumptive game 1 starter, Kyle Hendricks, who’s been far more successful at home than on the road for his career:
Wrigley (494.0 IP): .271 wOBA, 2.61 ERA
Away (472.0 IP): .297 wOBA, 3.70 ERA
But because nothing’s every easy, there are a couple wrinkles.
For one, the presumptive Game 2 starter for any such series, Yu Darvish, has actually been a lot better on the road than at Wrigley, and Jon Lester has been only slightly better at home. For another, there’s not actually a guarantee that any of the playoffs will take place at Wrigley Field.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) August 11, 2020
There are still a lot of details to be worked out – and, indeed, Chicago could play host to such a bubble, given that they’re a dual-stadium city – but that could make this all moot.
But even if winning your division buys you the same three-game playoff ticket (potentially in a neutral site) as the best team in the National League, home field advantage should be seen as worthwhile achievement. And, perhaps even more importantly, if the Cubs are able to punch their ticket to the postseason sooner than later, they can do what they did to great effect back in 2016: rest their regulars and starters heading into the playoffs.
After a sprint of a regular season that’s sure to be loaded with more and more double headers as time goes on (the Cubs have two next week, alone), rest can be crucial.
So for now, with so much up in the air, let’s be happy that the Cubs have gotten off to a huge head start. If things break their way, the home field advantage could be huge for any number of reasons. And if they don’t, the extra benefits of easing into October could be just as important.