You don’t have to squint to see the playoff picture getting clearer, though you might have wanted to close your eyes during the Cubs’ loss in Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon. Like when Ian Happ got hit near the right eye with a foul ball that ricocheted off the ground. Or when Jason Kipnis was allowed to bat against lefty Sam Howard with the bases loaded and one out despite having right-handed batters on the bench.
No matter how sloppy the Cubs looked in their latest loss, or in the four others they suffered during their 10-game road trip, they return to Chicago with even better playoff odds than a week ago. That’s because the rest of the division is playing just as poorly, with only the Brewers (6-4) gaining ground over the last 10 games. And Milwaukee is still 4.5 games back with just 23 games go play.
As you can see, the Cubs actually jumped up roughly two percentage points from last week and now have a 97.3% chance of making the playoffs. It helps that no one else seems to want to challenge them, though the Cardinals are going to get their shot with five games over the next four days. Unlikely as it may be, the Central could look very different if the Cubs soil the bed.
On the other hand, there’s a chance to bury the Cards and push those postseason odds to triple digits with a big series win. Factor in St. Louis’s need to continue playing more doubleheaders in order to squeeze in all the games they lost to their COVID shutdown and you can imagine them running out of gas down the stretch. Rather than wait on that, it’d just be best for the Cubs to win at least three games and create more Central distancing.