ZiPS Takes a Crack at the Early National League Projected Standings - Cubs Have a LONG Way to Go

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ZiPS Takes a Crack at the Early National League Projected Standings – Cubs Have a LONG Way to Go

Chicago Cubs

Even Dan Szymborski would concede that projecting the season standings right now is a particularly rough go, given how much of the offseason remains unfinished. But the reality of the lockout is such that we have no idea how much longer it’s going to go on, and if people want to see what his ZiPS projection system thinks of the various divisions, he’s just gonna have to bite the bullet and push it out “early.”

So he did:

Here’s the thing, though: these standings ARE still really useful and interesting at this moment in time, because they can show us which teams already look to be in good shape, and which teams still have a lot of work to do if they want to contend. Spoiler alert: the Cubs are extremely in the latter camp.

The full article has the whole of the National League and the attendant discussions, but here’s the high-level snapshot of the NL Central in 2022, as of this precise moment in time:

The record for the Cubs, given what the individual ZiPS projections showed, is a little surprising, and Szymborski notes as much. It’s not like we thought ZiPS was projecting an above-.500 team, but the rough eyeballing of the projections made it look like a 78-80 win team, rather than a 76-win team. That’s picking nits a bit, but Szymborski offers that the difference is probably mostly because (1) the Reds haven’t full blown up the roster yet, and (2) the Brewers rotation is projecting out even better in the simulations than the ZiPS initially made it look. (Great!)

Neither the Cardinals nor the Brewers project to be overwhelmingly strong at the moment, but they do project as very solid teams with possible post-lockout additions coming. (Overall in the NL, the Cubs project to have the fifth worst record, but only a game better than the Nationals, and only clearly better than the Pirates, Diamondbacks, and Rockies.)

My general position – unchanged by these projections – has been this: the Cubs have the look of a team that probably doesn’t reach 80 wins, but sometimes teams like that fluke their way into a surprisingly strong first half, at which point you can make decisions about how to proceed for the second half. With a few savvy additions after the lockout ends, the Cubs can put themselves in an even better position to have a shot at surprising in the first half. But even a Carlos Correa addition, for one example, is NOT going to make the Cubs an obvious on-paper contender. That doesn’t mean the Cubs could not win the division – with or without Correa – it just means that you have to be realistic about the most likely paths for 2022 when deciding which kinds of moves to make. This was the situation the Cubs set up for themselves years ago when they created a post-2021 cliff and decided to walk off of it. Various circumstances – some in their control, some not – led to that moment, but it happened. And this is what it looks like on the other side. Buying up free agents to turn this roster into an 88+ win team on paper is not realistic.

HOWEVER! Just to reiterate: the Cubs have tons of money to spend, and short-term deals do absolutely nothing to harm the long-term organizational health (indeed, they can improve it if mid-season flipping is necessary). So there is nothing in these projections that should make anyone say that ANY post-lockout signings are a waste of money or are futile. Multiple quality short-term signings would not only raise the floor in 2022 a bit – again, giving the Cubs a slightly better chance at surprising – but would also provide more potential trade pieces at mid-season if things are trending the way that seems most likely.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.