With the offseason more or less at a full close now, and with the various rosters around baseball now (more or less) set, we can look at the final preseason standings projections and know that at least they now have all the information.
To that end, Dan Szymborski pumped out his final ZiPS projections for the National League standings this year, and I know all you want to know: do the Cubs even have a chance?
They do! A chance! A slim chance:
When combining their chances at winning the NL Central with the expanded Wild Card situation, the Chicago Cubs have a 9.3% chance at making the playoffs this year, per these final preseason ZiPS projections. Not only does that pass the eyeball test for me, but it also squares with where we realistically thought the Cubs could get themselves this offseason while keeping their primary eye on 2023 and beyond.
Note some of Szymborski’s comments about the Central, which also track: “Chicago is the team in the division that improved the most over the winter, but the Cubs also started from a lower point than all but the Pirates. Even though the retooling went well, there’s probably not enough star potential to take advantage of the Cardinals’ or Brewers’ conservatism.”
The Cubs improved the most in the division this offseason … but that is mostly the product of how far they had available to climb. So it’s not much of a credit. Instead, it’s just more color to the idea that they’ve managed to give themselves a shot, but not much more.
Interesting that the Cardinals now project a click better than the Brewers, though ZiPS has kinda always been down on the Brewers’ style of succeeding (i.e., getting way more out of their pitching than you might think is possible). Also, note that neither club projects to win even 90 games. If the Cubs do manage to get out to a surprising start, and if the Brewers and Cardinals do stumble, then it isn’t inconceivable that the Cubs could be buyers come July (and August). But even that is going to require some really surprising breakouts on offense, the bullpen pitching to its peak level, and the rotation succeeding despite the unmistakable presence of duct tape.
Like I said, it’s possible! It’s just that it feels no more than 10% possible at the moment. Only five NL teams – the Reds, Pirates, Nationals, Diamondbacks, and Rockies – have lower postseason odds in these projections than the Cubs, for what that’s worth.