Quantifying Hope: Cubs Saw Playoff Chances Drop in July but End on High Note

As July was winding down, the Cubs were doing everything they could to make their supporters anxious, if not outright disgusted. Following a sweep of a double-header vs. the St. Louis Cardinals on July 7th, the Cubs had a season-high playoff percentage of 78.8%. Twelve days later, that number had dropped but was still at a very respectable 71.9%.

But after a 4-6 stretch that saw them suffer a sweep at home at the hands of the worst team in baseball, not to mention the ignominy of being no-hit for the first time in 50 years, those chances had dropped just a bit. And by “just a bit,” I mean more than 30 points, down to 40.2%. Just in case you’re bad at reading graphs, I’ve included some high-quality visual aids to point out the drop-off.


I think I can best summarize my feelings about that period of Cubs baseball with an anecdote about cleaning my son’s room. Because he throws dirty clothes in his hamper with roughly same frequency and efficacy as Jon Lester throwing to first, I’ve got to be on guard when reaching for things. I learned this the hard way when I went to put away some underwear and came up with a handful of skid-marked drawers. That mix of anger, revulsion, and resignation came back as the Cubs lost their third straight to Philly.

But winning has a funny way of whitewashing the stains of disappointment, and some among us have maintained a positive outlook throughout the down times. For instance, BP Wrigleyville characters Zack Moser and Rian Watt have both proclaimed a belief that the Cubs can and will win the Central division. Whether that’s simply youthful enthusiasm run amok or confidence born of the bottle remains to be seen, but I admire their chutzpah either way.

Of course, there’s a little foundation for that positive outlook in the last few days of the month. After hitting rock bottom following a loss to Colorado, the Cubs increased their odds significantly by winning 3 in a row and 4 of 5 to close the month with a 54.6% chance to reach the playoffs. Still quite a ways from where they had once been, but the upward trend is nice.

It’s no coincidence that the improvement has been rooted in a resurgent offense that has averaged 3.8 runs/game since the All-Star break and 4.6 runs over last 7 games. That’s not the mark of some kind of juggernaut, mind you, but it beats the heck out of the 2.47 runs/game they had put up in the 19 games leading up to the break.

When it comes to playoff odds, perhaps no stretch is as important as this upcoming set of games against the Pirates and Giants, both teams the Cubs are competing with for one of the two Wild Card spots (or, as the BPW guys hold, the division in the case of the Pirates). There’s so real potential for wild movement in the above graph over the next few days, so let’s just hope it’s all generally upward.

Other notes about playoff odds:

* Cardinals (99.4%) possess MLB’s best chance at the postseason

* I just threw up in my mouth a little bit

* Astros (93.9% playoffs, 14.5% WS) are making silly people think the Cubs are doing it wrong

* Dodgers (17.5%) have the best chance to win the World Series

* It happened again, this time I barely kept the keyboard clean

* Cubs on pace for 87.6 wins, more than almost every reasonable person projected


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