The Cubs haven’t looked great over the last couple weeks, but they’ve managed to fend off the hard-charging Brewers atop the division. After getting a little unexpected help from the Marlins, the Cubs lead the NL Central by .001 points and have momentum behind them as the Cardinals come to town.
Perhaps even less than the juice from winning three straight coming out of a sweep in St. Louis, landing Craig Kimbrel for the rest of this season and the next two will boost the Cubs’ odds. The new closer provides an immediate jolt even without pitching, since the players know their front office is going to do what it takes to put them in position to win.
That isn’t yet reflected in the divisional odds tracker at SportsBettingDime.com, which can be toggled to view individual team money lines or combined progress of all teams. The default setting is actually for division contenders, which is helpful in a division as tight as the NL Central. The Cubs and Brewers are nearly in a dead heat here as well, with maybe 10 points separating them.
Expect this to change over the weekend, whether it’s from the results of the Cubs/Cards series or fallout from the Kimbrel signing. The former factor is certainly going to influence FanGraphs’ computer-based odds model, which has the Cubs at 83.3% to make the playoffs. That’s up slightly from last week and they’ve increased the gap over the Brewers (50.6%) just a bit in that time.
The Cubs have actually improved their World Series odds just a bit as well, from 7.3 to 7.8% over the last week. Though it may seem insignificant, that’s pretty decent movement for such a short period. The improved odds are largely due to a weaker strength of schedule than their divisional opponents, which the computers believe will have the Cubs at a .551 winning percentage the rest of the way.
At 90-72, the Cubs are expected to finish five games ahead of the Brewers and six ahead of the Cardinals. For what it’s worth, the Reds and Pirates are both projected to rack up 77 wins. That is easily the highest projected win total for a last-place team(s) and would set a new mark for most wins by an NL Central bottom-feeder since the division was formed (73 is the high-water mark).
The division won’t be won or lost this weekend, but the odds could shift significantly based on the results of the next few days. And the overall competitiveness of all five Central teams means it’s going to be very difficult to run and hide. Getting the 9th inning locked down will certainly help the Cubs, but they might also want to consider scoring more than a run or two more frequently.