It’s fitting that the Cubs just faced Diamondbacks righty Zac Gallen because they now have 2% playoff odds. Or at least that’s how FanGraphs views it heading into the weekend. Despite consecutive losses, the Cubs are up significantly over last week on the strength of three straight series wins and a renewed sense of vigor. Of course, they’re also down from 2.5% just three days ago.
Starting pitching has been the story for the Cubs during this recent stretch of competitive baseball, with the offense busting out now and again to make things a little more fun. But some of those lopsided wins are distorting the big picture a little. If you take out their last three wins against the Pirates, the Cubs’ total +2 run differential becomes -35.
I know that’s cherry-picking, but they’ve got the fourth-fewest runs scored in the division even with those blowouts included. So the Pirates’ anemic offense is really the only thing standing between the Cubs and a negative differential, and it’s also why the Cubs have a 19-18 expected record that is inflated by a few games. Were they truly playing to that level, they’d be just a half-game back of St. Louis.
As for real records, the main thing keeping the Cubs afloat, to whatever extent you can call it that, is the futility of the NL East. Only the Mets are above .500 and the Nationals are worse than every NL team other than the Reds. The West is settling back down a bit as well, with both Colorado and Arizona carrying losing records.
Far be it for me to drum up false hope, but the Cubs still have three more with the D-backs and four in Cincinnati after that. As far-fetched as it would be for them to run the table in that stretch, they could very easily creep closer to the break-even mark. Or, you know, they could fizzle out and drop further back to make another sell-off almost desirable.
We’ve been targeting this stretch of games for a while now as the litmus test for the season, so next week’s installment should be more definitive. Mind you, I’m not saying something could happen that would reverse the course of the season from what we’ve all known for a while it could be. It’s more a matter of either staving off the inevitable or finally giving in to it wholeheartedly.