Quantifying Hope: Cubs at 61.5% Playoff Odds in First Check This Season

We’re almost a month into the season, so it made sense to revive your third-favorite recurring series here at CI. For those who may be new to it — or just forgot about it entirely — Quantifying Hope is a Friday column that looks at the Cubs’ playoff odds as calculated by the folks over at FanGraphs. Last year took us on a pretty wild ride as David Ross and Co. raced up a hill in the second half before stumbling and finishing just barely out of contention.

As you can see below from the early results, this season should feature a more gradual climb. The Cubs are currently a half-game behind the Brewers in the standings but lead the NL Central with a 61.5% playoff projection. How’s that possible, you ask? Well, the biggest reason is that the Brewers are baseball charlatans whose long-running con job has to end before long.

Beyond that, it comes down to the Cubs simply having a better roster. They managed to sweep the Astros with their ace pitcher and two starting outfielders on the IL, so imagine what they’ll be able to do when healthy. While the continued absence of those players will make it difficult to keep stacking wins, it also means Craig Counsell‘s team can keep a lot of collective and individual energy in reserve.

No one will ever advocate for the benefits of injuries, though it’s possible that putting a little less mileage on your key players means they’re fresher when it’s time to kick for the season’s stretch run. The Reds and Pirates may have an advantage due to their youth and the Brewers remain a wily bunch even if their pitching staff surely can’t keep up what it’s done so far.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, signed a bunch of aging pitchers to bolster a roster that was already long in the tooth. Remember how the Best Fans in Baseball used to tout the attendance at Busch Stadium as evidence of their superiority among die-hards? Well, it turns out they’re just as fickle as any other group. Attendance is dropping as the Cards sit last in the Central following a losing season that saw them finish 20 games under .500 and 21 games behind the Brewers.

As noted by Ethan Erickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, four of the 10 least-attended games in stadium history have come this year. If I were a betting man, I’d say they may re-write those records this season after Paul Goldschmidt is traded away and they pivot to a full rebuild. Such a development would bring me no small measure of joy.

Back to the Cubs, who have yet to face a divisional opponent and won’t do so until they return to Chicago on May 3 to host the Brewers. Seven games against the Pirates, four more in Milwaukee, three in that barren dump the Cards call home, and the start of a series against the Reds at Wrigley fill up the May schedule and could create a lot of separation in the standings.

What’s more, that Brewers series next Friday kicks off a run in which the Cubs will play NL Central opponents over seven consecutive weekends and eight out of nine. Pretty wild to think they didn’t play any of those rivals in March or April, then will play them 29 times in May and June before just 22 divisional tilts across July, August, and September. I get the idea of the balanced schedule, but someone at MLB HQ needs to prevent this from happening again.

I mean, look at the Cubs’ opponents between series against the Pirates and Reds in the final month of the season: vs. Yankees, at Dodgers, at Rockies, vs. Athletics, vs. Nationals (who they visit to close August and open September), at Phillies. There are 11 games against the AL and NL East, nine against the AL and NL West, and just six against the NL Central. What a stupid way to finish things out.

Unless, of course, the Rockies, A’s, and Nats continue to be doormats tanking their way to October. Now I just hope this column is still fun to write several weeks from now.

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