This has been a weird season, to say the least. The Cubs have dealt with injuries and inconsistency throughout and now they can’t seem to string together more than a couple wins in a row, all of which has allowed the Brewers to stick around. But the season-long playoff odds projections show the Cubs steadily pulling away.
There was a point at which Milwaukee had gotten really close, though the Central Division rivals are now separated by nearly 40 percentage points according to FanGraphs’ projections. That might seem odd when you think that the Brewers had gotten to within two games of the Cubs recently, until you look at how the Cardinals have improved their odds.
St. Louis has been playing better ever since their long overdue firing of Mike Matheny, and they really took off in August. As you can see from the chart below, there was about a week there around late July/early August during which the Cards had fallen behind the Pirates, dropping as low 7 percent playoff odds at one point. Since then, their rapid climb has helped to pull the Brewers down.
Also impacting the odds is the bunched-up NL wild card race. As of Friday morning, nine of the 15 teams in the league had at least a 20 percent chance at the postseason, with eight of those at 28.5 percent or better. The team at the bottom? That would be the Washington Nationals, who’ve somehow managed not to win a single playoff series in their existence.
“The culture here has been so good for so long,” Nats GM Mike Rizzo said shortly after trading Brandon Kintzler and designating Shawn Kelly for assignment. “We’ve had so much success over the last seven years that we’re not going to let anybody interfere with that success. We’re not going to let any one person derail what we’re going to do.”
You almost feel bad for Nationals fans, who are most likely not going to see playoff baseball this season and who’ll have to deal with a Bryce Harper-less future thereafter. But hey, at least Rizzo will be able to offer Harper a qualifying offer and use the subsequent compensatory pick to rebuild.
But back to the Cubs and their odds, which are fueled in part by the fact that they’ve played fewer games than pretty much everyone (list below per Mike Canter’s Friday Rundown). While they’re only two wins ahead of the Brewers, the Cubs have five fewer losses. And that, my friends, is a big deal. The gap will obviously shrink over the next six weeks and that means playing more games down the stretch, so that can factor as well.
- Cubs 70-50 .583
- Braves 68-52 .567
- Phillies 67-54 .554
- Brewers 68-55 .553
- Diamondbacks 67-55 .549
- Cardinals 66-56 .541
- Rockies 65-56 .537
- Dodgers 65-57 .533
The real determinant here for the Cubs will be whether they can once again make that final kick like a distance runner pushing to the finish line. They’ve been able to do exactly that over each of the past three seasons and could well do the same this year once reinforcements arrive. Expanding the lead out a little further over the next few weeks would be ideal, after which they’ll receive physical and emotional boosts.
Kris Bryant is taking swings without pain; Yu Darvish appears to be on a mission and will make a rehab start Sunday; Brandon Morrow is throwing with “a lot of spirit;” even someone like Terrance Gore could come in and provide a spark in the right situation.
Nothing is even close to being solidified, but the Cubs have maintained their position atop the division odds and are now pushing their margin as the season moves along. And with a rival-heavy schedule down the stretch, they’ve got a chance to really open things up over the next few weeks.