Rewind your clock eight years, and that’s the feeling of the atmosphere in Wrigley Field every time the Chicago Cubs fly the W flag. Last night was no different. Falling behind early, the team rallied past the first-place Cincinnati Reds, moving up to only 2.5 games out of the Wild Card and three games back in the NL Central.
The team's offense explosion in the last two games, in which they plated 36 runs, was the most in a two-game span in franchise history since 1897. Quickly extinguishing doubts that the Cubs’ recent hot stretch was not due to beating up on the poor teams, the offense battered a Reds pitching staff that now sits 26th in the MLB with a team ERA of 4.84.
Success is contagious. In baseball, especially. Cody Bellinger playing at an MVP level the last month, which earned him Player of the Month honors, has been the primary catalyst, but he’s not alone. Multiple players have gotten hot, including Dansby Swanson’s .288/.351/.568 slash with 10 HRs and 25 RBIs over the past 30 games.
Ian Happ is starting to break out again, with four HRs and seven RBIs over his past seven contests while batting .292/.471/.875. Christopher Morel is batting .357 over his last seven, and newcomer Jeimer Candelario is scorching hot to start his second stint with the organization since the trade deadline, with a .889 batting average after going 8-9 in two games. The Cubs' balanced attack boasts a four-person group consisting of Bellinger, Swanson, Morel, and Candelario, who are all about on pace for a 25 HR/75 RBI season. Though behind in the power department, Happ and Nico Hoerner are also looking at 70+ RBI seasons, filling the Cubs with solid production throughout the lineup.
You could write a solid note on just about every player on this team right now, and the team's record of 13-6 since the All-Star break reminds us of the 2015 squad when the Cubs started with a 12-8 record in the first 20 games after the break. The Cubs clinched a Wild Card with 97 wins that year, beginning a run of three straight NLCS appearances and six consecutive playoff berths. The next-best team in the NL had 84 wins, and given the extended playoff format these days, it’s no surprise that the Cubs currently have a 34.2% chance to make the playoffs, according to Fangraphs.
A significant difference between this year’s team and 2015 is the overall record, which sat at 57-47 on August third. However, in 2015, the 97-win Cubs blew the next-best team, San Francisco, with only 84 wins, out of the water. Realistically, they could have only won 85 games and still made the Wild Card. Therefore, don't let the Cubs' current record be a comparison that this team can't have the same success as it did eight years ago. Eighty-five wins this year means the Cubs go 30-24 the rest of the way. Given the strength of the remainder of their schedule, this isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Chicago Cubs: What can the team do to propel into a playoff spot?
Keep doing what you’re doing. Many team statistics for the Cubs indicate this team is much better than their overall record. Every team in the NL Central has a negative run differential, besides the Cubs, who sit at +77. Eventually, those numbers will see the overall standings correct themselves if they keep playing this way. This is one of the best teams that are only two games above .500 that we have perhaps ever seen:
- Batting Average: 4th in the NL
- On Base Percentage: 3rd in the NL
- Slugging Percentage: 5th in the NL
- Starting pitching ERA: 7th in the NL
- Bullpen ERA: 6th in the NL
- Team ERA: 6th in the NL
Given that there are six playoff teams from each conference, the Cubs being top six in all but one of these categories makes it hard to believe they are only currently the 9th best team in the National League.
A hip issue could have been the underlying cause of his regression, and therefore, Marcus Stroman's IL stint is unfortunate. His returning to form is imperative if the Cubs wish to make the playoffs. The only positive to take away from that is that there could be a fixable reason for the dip in production. Therefore, if this is what he needs to return to what he was doing in the first half, it's better now than in mid-September. Especially now that Jameson Taillon has seemingly turned the corner and has put up the best numbers of his season over his last four starts.
Looking back to earlier in the year, the Cubs’ stretch of multiple one-run losses is a big reason why this team isn’t at least ten games over .500 and in first place in the NL Central right now, as they were in 2015 at this juncture. They must hang tough over this critical upcoming stretch against the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays. If they can do that, they have another ten-game stretch against all sub-500 teams, which may be when we see the Cubs push ahead into a playoff spot.