The Cubs haven’t been playing very good baseball lately, but they’ve somehow managed to tread water in a bunched-up division that sees the Brewers and Cardinals playing at least as poorly. The Brewers are up a skosh since we looked last week, but the Redbirds continue to drop. As you can see from the chart below, the one constant through the last two months of jagged progress has been that blue line hovering well above the others.
The Cubs are down just a couple ticks from a week ago, though they’ve remained more or less even over the last three weeks. It’s not the trend you’d like to see, but it’s better than the two teams below them.
These numbers aren’t like Vegas odds, so Craig Kimbrel’s debut doesn’t immediately boost the Cubs’ chances here, but we should see that factor over time. The opposite may be true for the Cards, who lost Jordan Hicks to a torn UCL and will now be forced to mix at match at the back of the bullpen.
Though neither team at the bottom boasts strong odds, both the Pirates nor Reds maintain some semblance of contention. What’s more, both of them are capable of jumping up and biting the teams above them. And both are projected for roughly 77 wins, at least five more than the next-highest projection for any other last-place team and four more than a last-place NL Central team has ever recorded.
The Cubs are projected for roughly 89 wins, giving them a 4-5 game cushion over the Brewers and carrying them to the NL’s third-best record. They’re aided by a .495 opponent winning percentage that gives them the weakest schedule of any NL Central team moving forward.
Believe it or not, the computers still give the Cubs a pretty solid shot at the World Series as well. Though 7% might not look very high, it’s right at the top of the second tier of teams below the Astros (21.4%), Dodgers (20%), and Yankees (15.2%). And that’s with the roster as it’s currently constructed, so a few tweaks could see the Cubs playing better baseball down the stretch.
Jed Hoyer said Thursday that the Cubs would indeed be looking externally for offensive help, and they reportedly had scouts at a recent Tigers/Rangers game. They’ve also been linked to lefty relievers, particularly a pair of Giants, and the farm system could even yield a shot in the arm or three.
A lot can and will change over the next month, which is why I like these columns. Looking at playoff odds may seem strange early in the season, but patterns emerge over time and you establish little touchstones that can be fun to revisit. So keep following along, or even type “quantifying hope” into the site search bar if you’re a real glutton for punishment.