Can the Chicago Cubs regular season assure us of anything? It’s been impressive, but will this guarantee success?
The Chicago Cubs find themselves in rarefied air heading toward the 2016 postseason, with a major caveat. A historic season doesn’t really mean much after the fact if a World Series title doesn’t follow; just ask the 2001 Seattle Mariners. However, Chicago can take solace in building the best team baseball has seen in quite some time.
With the expanded playoffs giving more and more teams a chance at a ring, all a contender can do is get in and give itself the best chance to win. That is what the Cubs have done. And they have done so rather dramatically. Chicago is putting together one of the best regular seasons of this generation. Thanks to an incredibly deep and versatile everyday lineup, a well-balanced starting rotation with aces at the top and a shutdown closer at the backend.
They are on pace to easily pass 100 wins and approach a +250 run differential according to Fangraphs. Both figures blow away the rest of the teams in baseball this season. No one else is expected to even come close to +200 runs, let alone topping that mark. 200 runs above the competition seems to be a mark of excellence.
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In the past decade, only four teams have reached the mark. Yet no team finished with a better differential than the 2011 New York Yankees at +221. Chicago is so above that level, it reached +221 by the start of September. This team is on a level not approached by anyone this decade.
Of course, the Cubs won’t be an all-time great in terms of besting their competition. The greatest rosters in baseball history topped 2.0 runs per game more than their opponents. Chicago was at that level for a while earlier in the year, topping out at +171 runs 67 games into the season. But it has since tailed off from that level, as one would expect.
As described by Jerry Tapp earlier this year, only seven teams in MLB history have finished a season with a runs-per-game differential of at least 2.0. No one has done it since the 1939 Yankees; even the 2001 Mariners, who tied the record for most wins in a season, fell not-insignificantly short of the 2.0 threshold. It’s ridiculously hard to accomplish.
A 1.5 run differential per game is attainable yet still historic, which is the neighborhood of the 2016 Cubs. Again according to Tapp, 50 teams since 1901 have reached that mark; a pretty exclusive group. And of those 50, a whopping 34 ended up making the World Series in that season. Of course, it used to be much easier to make the World Series than it is now thanks to the design of the postseason. The chances of these Cubs making the Fall Classic are, unfortunately, still considerably against them just because of circumstances.
With essentially a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs as a division winner, Chicago is into the divisional round of the playoffs, avoiding the wildcard play-in games. Even the best teams (which the Cubs are right now) don’t have any better than a 66 percent chance of defeating a second-round foe in a best-of-five series. From there, each round the Cubs progress, the odds drop and the opponents get better.
Fangraphs has done the math and well over three-fourths of the time, the Chicago Cubs will not win the 2016 World Series. There are simply too many variables playing against them. Think of it this way. You could play the 2016 baseball season 100 times from this juncture right now, and in 80 of those 100 iterations, the Cubs will lose.
Of course, what they have done is give themselves the best chance to win of any team in the league. That counts for something. Whether it will be remembered will come down to a bit of luck.