Cubs Projected as Division Champs by Narrowest Margin, Benefit from Minimal Travel and Favorable Schedule Strength
Initial reaction to the Cubs’ 60-game schedule ranged from “meh” to “WTF?!,” with uneven divisional splits and odd travel structure making the slate look overly clunky. As it turns out, though, the Cubs might actually benefit from the jumbled mess. The most obvious advantage is being able to host both the Cardinals and Brewers for seven of their 10 matchups, even if that means heading to Cincinnati for seven others.
Though not quite as notable, facing the Twins only three times — all at Wrigley — means the Cubs get a break in their strength of schedule. Being in what projects to be a relatively weak group of 10 teams is helpful as well, since the six easiest schedules — and seven of the lowest eight — come from either the AL or NL Central.
The Reds appear to be the runaway winners here, but we’re talking about pretty negligible differences between them and the Cubs as the fifth easiest. Besides, this could all shift dramatically if one or two teams plays better or worse than expected.
Another beneficial factor for the Cubs is the reduced travel necessitated by the truncated schedule. The Central teams all have an advantage over their counterparts in the East and West, as you can see quite clearly in the chart put together by Daren Willman. In case the tweet is not displaying for you, I’ve included the image separately below.
Breaking down every @mlb teams updated 2020 travel schedule… Pretty cool looking at the divisional separation of the schedule this way. pic.twitter.com/ht2Bg3qBnj
— Daren Willman (@darenw) July 6, 2020
The Cubs will travel just 4,071 miles this season, less than any team but the Brewers (3,962) and less than half the mileage that will be logged by 13 other teams. Whatever home field advantage is lost from the lack of fans could be gained in spending more time at home sweet home. Other Central teams are likewise facing drastically reduced travel, but every little bit counts.
That’s particularly true in a shortened season, so having to fly or drive just 500 or 600 fewer miles than the Cards and Reds might be what puts the Cubs over the top. FanGraphs projects the Cubs to win just 32 games in 2020, narrowly edging out their opponents. However, the projections still show the NL Central as the toss-up we’ve all imagined.
Yep, that’s just a single game separating all four real MLB teams in the division, with Pittsburgh another five games back. Like I said, every single little advantage is going to be important in this one. Assuming, that is, MLB is even able to pull off 60 games.