If you’re focused on the Cubs’ latest loss and the fact that it puts them at 2-4 against the Pirates, perhaps dose of reality is in order. This team wasn’t going to jump out of the gate going 25-6 or whatever, but they’re not destined to fade into obscurity either. That sweep at the hands of the Buccos earlier in April represents the Cubs’ only series loss in seven sets, and even a four-game skid in there sees them with a .571 winning percentage.
In case you’re wondering, that comes out to 92.5 wins when extrapolated out over the season. Disappointing though that may sound in light of the last couple seasons, consider for a moment the division in which the Cubs play. The Reds had a hot start that’s already fizzling. The Pirates currently sit in last and are missing All-Star outfielder Starling Marte for half the season. The Brewers have got Eric Thames and Ryan Braun, but not a lot else.
Even Dexter Fowler and the Cardinals look like maybe a .500 team with enough fight to stand a puncher’s chance in a short series. Things could change with a hot call-up or a big trade here or there, but the Central is looking — for now, anyway — like a bunch of also-rans.
There’s also the matter of April being the Cubs’ toughest month in terms of opponents’ projected winning percentage. A look back at pre-season ESPN power rankings that had the Cubs No. 1 shows that they were projected for a .583 winning percentage in this opening month. Let’s see, if they win two of three in Boston, that puts them at 14-10 (.583).
Wait, that’s…exactly on the projection. It’s possible they could be swept at Fenway and finish April treading water, or that they could light the Red Sox up and be ahead of projection. The point is that the Cubs are who we thought they were. And if they continue to perform to expectations, they’ll continue to trend upward. ESPN projected them for 98 wins and I see no reason for that to be anything but a realistic expectation at this point.
While Baseball Prospectus has a much more conservative projection of 91.2 wins, they give the Cubs an MLB-best 89.2 percent chance at making the playoffs (LA Dodgers – 87.2; Cleveland – 86.9; Houston – 86.4). The Cubs also have an 80.5 percent chance to win the division, the best odds in baseball. Should I go on?
FanGraphs is even more bullish on the Northsiders, giving them a 96.2 percent chance to make the playoffs with 95.2 wins. It’s still way to early to put serious stock in the specific numbers, but the moral of the story here is that the Cubs are just fine and there’s really no reason to start chewing our nails in fear that they’re not out in front of the division by five games.
While they’ve got a slate of games against surprisingly decent teams like the Phillies and Rockies (who got wild in free agency) — not to mention the Yankees — to open May, nine divisional games in the middle of the month provide an opportunity to push the pace a bit. Things should continue to look better with each day of the calendar we cross off.