Chicago Cubs: Less than three weeks to go in playoff chase

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The MLB season has entered its final three weeks. Let’s look at the Chicago Cubs’ playoff chances in the NL Central and NL Wild Card races.

Despite their inconsistent play all season, the Chicago Cubs are still right in the middle of the National League playoff chase. In fact, if the season ended today, they still would hold a playoff spot with their 77-66 record.

So what are the chances that they will survive these last three weeks and get into the playoffs? Let’s take a look at both the NL Central and NL Wild Card races.

We’ll start with the NL Central. On August 8, the Cubs held a 3.5 game lead in the division over the Milwaukee Brewers, while the St. Louis Cardinals were four games out. Since then, the Cardinals have gone 23-7 and, thanks to the Cubs’ continued mediocrity, have sprinted out to a four-game lead at 81-62. The Cubs missed a chance this past weekend to distance themselves from the Brewers, losing three of four against them, so the Brewers are still in the picture at six games out.

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What gives the Cubs a little hope is that they still have seven games remaining against the Cardinals, including four at home. So let’s say the Cubs go 5-2 in those games. (I know that’s optimistic, but that’s probably the worst they could do and still have any realistic chance.) If the Cardinals go, say, 7-5 in their other 12 games, the Cubs would have to go 8-4 for both teams to tie at 90-72 (which would set up a tiebreaker game) or 9-3 to win the division outright, assuming Milwaukee doesn’t get super hot and sneak by both teams.

All the Cubs’ remaining games, besides those against St. Louis, come against losing teams: San Diego (3 away), Pittsburgh (3 home and three away), and Cincinnati (3 home). The Cardinals, meanwhile, only play one losing team the rest of the way: 3 on the road against Colorado. They have to play three at home against Milwaukee, three at home against Washington, and three on the road against Arizona. So, while the above scenario is a challenging one, it can be done.

But in case it doesn’t happen, there’s still the Wild Card Game, which isn’t ideal but it still offers a chance. Let’s look at the standings:

  • Washington: 79-63, +2.5 games
  • Chicago: 77-66, 0 games back
  • Milwaukee: 75-68, 2 games back
  • Arizona: 75-69, 2.5 games back
  • Philadelphia: 74-69, 3 games back
  • New York: 73-70, 4 games back

Arizona is the surprise here; after hovering around .500 most of the year and trading away Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, they’ve gotten hot and are still in this race thanks to the Cubs’ lackluster play. If the Cubs are out of the division race by the last week of the season, fans may be in the awkward situation of having to root for St. Louis in their three games against Arizona.

The bad news is that there are a lot of teams on the Cubs’ heels. The good news is that they still control their own fate; if they win their games, they don’t have to worry about anything else. The Cubs don’t have any remaining games left against any of their Wild Card competitors, which could be a good or a bad thing. But again, if they take care of their business, they’ll be fine.

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With all that’s gone wrong for the Chicago Cubs this season, we should be thankful that they still control their own destiny when it comes to the playoffs. Hopefully, they have one more good run in them and can get to the postseason tournament, where anything can happen.