The Chicago Cubs got off to a red hot start under new manager David Ross, winning 13 of their first 16 games. The team is now moving in reverse, however.
The Chicago Cubs have gone 5-9 since the hot start, which makes this a tale of two seasons so far through the first 30 games. The good news is they have banked some wins early on and only need to win a few more to likely get into the playoffs in this expanded format. But, will they be able to win enough games to win the Central?
The Cubs’ offensive numbers say no, but this is baseball, and it’s a weird game.
Currently, according to FanGraphs, they have a 94 percent chance to make the playoffs, and a 58.5 percent chance to win the division. Good numbers, right? Well, on Monday, the Cubs had a 70 percent chance of winning the division and a 97.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Cardinals’ schedule doesn’t exactly get more challenging over the weekend when they play the Pirates, and the Cubs travel to Cincinnati.
Chicago only has 12 home games left out of their 30, and four of them are against the Cardinals as part of a five-game series. One of the days of that series will be a doubleheader since St. Louis missed two weeks’ worth of games due to COVID-19.
The numbers are not in their favor. The Cardinals have 11 games in hand on the Cubs, meaning they play 11 times when the Cubs don’t for the rest of the season, but most of those are doubleheaders. That’s still 11 chances to pick up games on an already slim two-game deficit St. Louis is facing.
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Now, back to those offensive numbers for the Cubs. The team slash line is currently .228/.334/.403 and have the third-highest strikeout rate in the league at 26.2 percent. They have the second-highest ground ball rate in the Majors, at 47.1 percent. They hit the ball in the air just 30.9 percent of the time, the third-worst percentage in MLB.
As for the Cardinals, their team slash is .242/.343/.377. The Cubs and Cardinals walk about the same amount, the Cubs at 11.4 and St. Louis at 11 percent. However, St. Louis only strikes out 22.7 percent of the time. Putting the ball in play goes a long way, and quite frankly, the Cardinals do a better job of it than they do.
Javier Baez has a .669 OPS, Willson Contreras has a.691, Anthony Rizzo is at .740. Kris Bryant is at a .594 OPS. These guys simply need to play better for the Cubs to have any chance at realistically making a deep playoff run, and unfortunately, none of them besides Baez in recent days is showing any signs of breaking out of the slump.
The Cards also put the ball in the air more, at 36.2 percent. The low slugging percentage is likely a result of playing their home games at Busch Stadium.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Chicago currently is the pitching. The Tigers have a team wRC+ of 96 and get on base at just a .304 clip, and they gave up 17 runs in three games to that team, including 17 hits on Wednesday.
They will likely make the playoffs, given the short season, and they are better positioned than most teams at this point, but the odds are stacked too much against their favor to hold on to the division lead.