The Cubs are seven games over .500. How have they done it? Beating bad teams.
The Cubs woke up on Monday three games from the midway point of this bizarre season. They’ll hit said milestone upon the conclusion of a three-game series against the 11-15 Detroit Tigers. If they whip up on the Tigers like have against sub-.500 teams, they should finish the first half 20-10.
Ten games over .500 at the midpoint would translate into a 40-win season, certainly good enough to win the division But behind those numbers are some troubling inconsistencies that could derail that path to 40 or more wins.
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The Cubs are 1-1 in extra-inning games, including a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh and a 6-5 loss to the Brewers. The team tied that Brewers game in the eighth after giving up a 3-0 lead. Jeffress took the loss in his second inning of work in the tenth.
In one-run games, the Cubs are 6-3, which is a solid mark 27 games into the season. But in blowouts (defined as a spread of five or more runs) they are 4-5. By comparison, the 16-9 Yankees are 3-2 in blowouts, and the MLB best 21-8 Dodgers are 8-0 in such contests.
Digging a little deeper, they are just +4 in terms of run differential. That number took a beating over the weekend against the Sox and works out to a Pythagorean W-L of 14-13. The Cubs rank 17th in runs per game, the worst of any first-place team, and only Cleveland is worse among teams with a winning record.
Then there’s the bullpen. So far David Ross and Tommy Hottovy have prevented a total meltdown. Even Kimbrel has looked like the old Kimbrel lately. Can Ross and Hottovy keep the wheels from falling off the bullpen? If Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana come back strong then absolutely the bullpen will be able to handle the next 33 games.
The starting pitching is also a bit of a concern but, again. if Chatwood and Quintana come back strong then that concern goes away entirely.
So it really does come down to the hitters, especially the top of the order getting their acts together beyond the Detroit series. Their slow start has been typical in past seasons. They have usually started to pull out of that in June. Well, in 2020 this week right now is the month of June.
The schedule provides little relief and this is the time for fans to worry. The Cubs start the second half with seven games against sub-.500 teams and they play just 13 of 30 games against teams currently over .500. Seventeen games are against teams currently .500 or worse, but three of those are against the Brewers, Not much relief there.
So I’m looking at that stretch of games in mid-September when the Cubs face the Brewers, Indians and Twins. We’ll know then if these teams are for real.