Pythagoras Was Bullish on Cubs’ Ability to Win NL Central, Now They Have to Massively Outplay Projections

Pythagoras didn’t know a damn thing about baseball — he probably wasn’t even the first to understand how to calculate the hypotenuse of a right triangle — but his name is ascribed to the formula that determines how many games a team should have won based on runs scored and allowed. I am acutely aware that a lot of you think I’m being obtuse when I keep talking about the Cubs as deadline buyers, but you have to be a square to really want them to pack it in. No more geometry jokes, I promise.

Much of the optimism surrounding the Cubs’ season, both at the outset and as it has continued is based on circular logic. They play in a weak division, so it shouldn’t take that much to be competitive. Wash, rinse, repeat each month. Even if we remove the external factors — the DraftKings Sportsbook is now open and the Cubs are planning to launch Marquee as a stand-alone streaming service later this month — the Central is far from a juggernaut.

If things had gone the way they should have, the Cubs would be leading the division with a 47-42 record. The Reds would be next at 45-46, followed by the Brewers at 44-47, the Cardinals at 42-48, and the Pirates at 40-50. Actually living up to that expected winning percentage would net the Cubs another 38 or 39 wins after the break, with the higher figure getting them to an even .500 record. That probably won’t be enough to catch the Reds, who will have to play much worse than they have so far.

Regressing to the Pythagorean mean would put them at 35-36 down the stretch, which is still an 85-77 record that would easily outpace the Cubs. That’s actually right where the Cubs would project to if results matched expectations, but being five under instead of over at the break has put them in quite a hole. Even with a weaker strength of schedule than their division rivals, the Cubs basically need to make up almost a game a week in the standings.

Unless Elly De La Cruz suddenly becomes mortal or the Cubs do indeed add impact talent at the deadline, it’s going to be a very tough row to hoe. Shocking revelation there, right?

As unlikely as a playoff run may be at this point, I would still prefer to see the front office push for it, even if it’s not a chips-in kind of move. Engineering a soft buy/sell that sees them moving an expiring contract or three for controllable players who can help the big league club beyond the remainder of this season will help to clarify needs and shore up the roster for a run in the future. Selling just to sell would just be a crapshoot that doesn’t really put the organization in a better position.

Speaking of punting, we’ve been doing that with the point of no return for the front office. It felt for a while like there’d be a line of demarcation at the end of June, then that moved to the end of the first half, and now it might fall at the conclusion of the upcoming 10-game homestand. Seven of those games come against the Nationals and Reds, after which the Cubs stay in town to face the White Sox for two before heading to St. Louis for four more.

A hot streak isn’t out of the question, so it’s entirely possible that Jed Hoyer finds a reason to improve his team just before hosting the Reds right as the deadline comes.

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