A little less than seven weeks ago, FanGraphs had the Cubs sitting at a mere 6.0% chance to make the postseason. The Brewers were nearly 70 points higher, the Reds were over 23%, and even the Cardinals had a slight advantage on Chicago’s National League ballclub. That was on July 17, when the Cubs lost to the Nationals in the first game of their series after having dropped two of three to the Red Sox to open the second half.
Things, they were not looking good.
The Cubs then went on to win 10 of their next 11 games and are 28-12 overall from that Nats loss heading into their doubleheader with the Reds. That stretch includes a 14-5 record against NL Central opponents and a 10-4 record in one-run games, with both of their wins against the Brewers coming by the slimmest of margins. Prior to the sample in question, the Cubs were just one game over .500 in divisional play and three under in one-run games.
Stringing all those wins together has vaulted the Cubs up to 75.3% playoff odds, more than a twelvefold jump from where they were in mid-July. They’re as close to the Brewers in the Central as they are to the Phillies for the top Wild Card spot, and they’ve got a three-game cushion on the Reds with a game and a half separating them from the Giants. The season doesn’t end today, though, so there’s plenty of work to be done.
It helps that destiny is very much in the Cubs’ hands, with 17 of their final 29 games coming against teams with whom they’re directly competing for playoff spots. Mercifully, nine of the other 12 come against the Rockies and Pirates with three more against a Braves team that could be mailing it in as long as the No. 1 overall seed remains safely in their grasp.
The path forward is simple: Just keep winning games. Reinforcements are on the way in Alexander Canario and Shane Greene, with others possible as September wears on and the roster is tweaked around the margins to gain little advantages. Pitching has been the big question of late, but Justin Steele continues to look like an ace and Kyle Hendricks resembles his old self. With Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks shoving as well, this is a team that can hang with anyone in a tough series.
Playing four games in three days provides an opportunity to gain ground, so the Cubs need to dismantle the Reds and make the Brewers sweat a little more.