Quantifying Hope: What the Numbers Say About the Cubs’ Chances

Can you believe we’re already in June? Here I am about to celebrate my Wu-Tangth birthday and the Cubs are still in it, which is no mean feat given the way they’ve played through the the first half of my fourth decade on this rock we call home.

Because baseball has such a long and fluid season, I made the decision a while back to check in every month or so on some of the numbers — both subjective and objective — that show us how the Cubs are faring. It was a tough week, but David Ross’s walk-off hit on Sunday certainly provided an uplifting ending.

Today, I’ll be looking at ESPN’s power rankings and Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds. Spoiler alert: both have some pretty good things to say.

Power Rankings

The Cubs dropped to 10th after a week in the 9th spot, but that was only after a 2-3 homestand that saw them face the 6th-ranked Washington Nationals and the third-ranked Kansas City Royals. It was actually a tribunal of attrition, as those two teams were ranked 3rd and 1st last Sunday.

The only bad news about this ranking is that there are five NL teams ahead of the Cubs this week; the Cardinals (1), Giants (2), Dodgers (5), Nats (6), and Pirates (9) are all in the top 10 as well. Of course, the playoffs aren’t determined by power rankings. Also, it’s only June.

BP Playoff Odds

The bad news is that the Cubs’ odds of making the playoffs dropped by 6.7% this past week (though they actually increased 3.9% following Sunday’s walk-off win). The good news is that, despite a hot streak, the Pirates are still a distant 3rd in the NL Central when it comes to those same odds. While only a game behind the Cubs in the standings, the Pirates trail by nearly 21 points (36.2 to 57.1) in terms of their likelihood of playing in the postseason.

Only the Dodgers (92.8), Cards (88.2), Nats (82.2), and Giants (61) currently hold better odds than the North Siders; that’s pretty good company to keep. And when it comes to the potential for winning the World Series, only those first three teams look better than the Cubs’ 4.2%.

When I last looked at this, the Cubs had a 62% chance to make the playoffs and a 5.1% chance to win the World Series, so they’ve dropped off slightly since then. It’s important to note, however, that their projected win total only shifted down two-tenths of a game, from 86.6 to 86.4.

That tells me that the decreased odds are due at least as much to other teams’ improved performance as to the Cubs’ mediocrity. Sweeping the Mets and going toe-to-toe with the Nats and Royals was well and good, but losing 4 of 6 to the Brewers and 3 of 4 to the Cards hurt.

Division Matchups

Adding in the series against the Pirates, the Cubs went 5-8 vs. the NL Central in May, a mark they’re going to have to improve upon as they try to stay in contention through the summer. At 14-13 overall in the division, the Cubs are at least over .500, though just barely.

June features only 7 divisional contests, July has 10, and August only 9, but September is a veritable minefield in which 19 0f the Cubs’ 27 (including 6 against the Pirates) games will come against the Central. Given how tight the race for those Wildcard spots is likely to be, this team had better be hitting it’s stride coming out of the summer.

Still, after finishing no better than 10 games under vs. their division since 2009, even being 1 game over is a very good sign.

So there you have it, the Cubs will be a shoo-in for post 10/4 baseball. Okay, maybe not, but we’ve passed the quarter pole here in 2015 and we can still talk about this team and the postseason without even a hint of irony.


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