Quantifying Hope: ‘Slump’ Drops Cubs’ Playoff Odds to Paltry 98.7%

Man, that slump was a killer. As a result of their 4-5 swing through Milwaukee, San Francisco, and St. Louis, the Cubs lost an entire percentage point off of their near-lock for a playoff spot. According to Baseball Prospectus, their odds dropped by seven-tenths of a percent in the last seven days alone. That’s a tenth of a point each day, people! Feel free to freak the eff out.


Making matters even worse is the fact that the Cardinals are creepin’ on ah come-up like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Never mind the fact that the Cubs just took two of three from their rivals to push them 8 games back in the Central or that the Cards are 5-5 over their last 10 games. Pay no attention to the plummeting playoff odds and the sub-par starting pitching. None of that matters to the Redbirds.

While the Cubs are busy embracing the target, the Cardinals are embracing intangibles after their most recent “statement loss.” Yes, that was paraphrased from a real article on ESPN that I don’t think was intentionally satirical. Even after reading through it a couple times, I’m struggling to determine just how seriously Mark Saxon took himself when writing the piece.

They have determination, they have grit. What they don’t have so far is starting pitching. Wins seem more closely correlated to the latter than the former.

The St. Louis Cardinals walked away from their second encounter with the first-place Chicago Cubs with another lost opportunity. But after Wednesday’s 9-8 loss in which they nearly rallied out of a five-run hole against the best right-hander in baseball, the Cardinals feel good about the intangibles.

Surprisingly, the Cardinals made Jake Arrieta look like a mid-rotation starter, scoring four runs off him in five innings and then continuing to come at Chicago’s solid bullpen until its closer finally got out of a jam to end the game.

Arrieta’s game score, 40, was his lowest in more than a year. That, perhaps, is something to feel good about even if an eight-game deficit in the division standings isn’t. The Cardinals seemed to be taking their second lost series to the Cubs with a dose of optimism.

“I think we still made a statement. We were down 6-1 right off the bat. The game before, we were kind of in the same situation. We were tired of it,” second baseman Kolten Wong said. “Our pitchers have been our go-to these past few years. It was time for us to step up and I think we all kind of felt that, too. We just wanted to make this a game and show that we have our pitchers’ backs.”

The Cardinals, who haven’t missed the playoffs in six years, don’t take losing well. Manager Mike Matheny became visibly agitated during his postgame comments at several points, but he said he left the series with a good feeling about his team, at least the intangible part. There’s that word again.

“We’ve had some games walking out of here a little embarrassed just because we know we’re better. To get back into that game and fight like that and get within striking distance with a chance to even win it in the ninth, that’s a great effort,” Matheny said. “The only frustration is feeling like you had it or were going to get it and not finishing it off.”

Made a statement? Great effort? Taking losses with a dose of optimism? I thought moral victories had been outlawed by an ordinance passed by the St. Louis city counsel twenty-some years back.

Mike Matheny spoke after their most recent loss about not acknowledging Jake Arrieta’s greatness because to do so would be to walk to the plate already defeated. Call me crazy, but it sounds a hell of lot like they’re happy with only losing by one run to the Cubs, which means that they’ve readily accepted defeat.

But I digress. The goal here wasn’t to bash the Cardinals or an ESPN writer, though I’ve not been above such antics in the past. And you can bet your sweet bippy that I’ve done my fair share of rationalizing and pandering over the last couple years. It’s just funny that the tables have turned in a big way of late.

Depending on which service you use, the Cubs are projected to win anywhere from 98 to 100 games. A wide range, I know, so it’s important to take these things with a grain of salt or two. Even that triple-digit win total gives them only a 14-game division lead, which is just a little too close for comfort. After all, you never know when those moral victories will start turning into real ones for a team that still plays the infield in when they’re down 11-1 in the 9th inning.

The moral (victory) of the story is that the Cubs can’t just rest on the laurels of an 18-6 division record and the best playoff and World Series odds in baseball. They can, however, proceed to turn those projections into reality.

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