Quantifying Hope: Cubs Over 69% Playoff Odds, 86 Projected Wins

The Cubs enter Friday’s action with a 22-16 record that sees them locked in a virtual tie with the Brewers atop the NL Central. That they’ve managed to do it while dealing with more than their share of injury attrition says that maybe, just maybe, this is a pretty good team. And though I don’t think anyone would tell you their bullpen construction is a strong suit, a little continuity and an outside addition could turn that unit around.

After playing just three divisional games to this point, their upcoming series in Pittsburgh opens a stretch that sees the Cubs playing 21 of their next 29 games against their most familiar foes. As noted in last week’s column, the next six Fridays and eight of the next 10 will see the Cubs playing against someone from the Central. So even if they can’t technically secure a postseason bid in June, they have an opportunity to distance themselves from the pack.

That’s already starting to happen in the playoff odds at FanGraphs, which give the Cubs a very nice 69.2% chance to play more than 162 games this year. They are also tracking to 86.4 wins, or 1.5 more than anyone else in the division. After taking two of three from the Brewers at Wrigley, Craig Counsell‘s took a big jump and then sort of flatlined when they dropped their matchup with the Padres. But since the Brew Crew couldn’t take advantage, the gap sits right around 10% at the moment.

And just look at that beautiful jumble of mediocrity down at the bottom as the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates make like a gaggle of goobers tumbling down Cooper’s Hill in pursuit of a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. It’s almost like the time I went to an Indianapolis Indians game and some drunk college kids were chosen to do the dizzy-bat race. I, er, one of the dudes fell down at least three times.

That’s somewhat fitting because the Pirates looked to be faceplanting before the announcement that they’d promoted soon-to-be ace Paul Skenes from Triple-A Indy. I regret that I wasn’t able to get over there to see him pitch against the Iowa Cubs next month and now I lament the fact that they called him up to face the Chicago Cubs twice in the next week. While every pitcher is going to have his share of bumps along the way, Skenes looks very much like a dude who’s ready to carve right out of the gate.

Almost as important as taking care of business against Pittsburgh in seven of their next 10 games is the Brewers stumbling against the Cards and Bucs. Getting a little psychological edge in the standings is never a bad thing, and we saw last year how clawing back from a deficit burned up the Cubs’ physical and mental energy before they could kick down the stretch. Having Counsell at the helm should help with that, as he seems to have a steadier hand on the rudder than his predecessor.

One of the great things about this upcoming stretch of games, for me anyway, is that they’re all being played in what my parents would call “fast time.” I’m not sure how Amy Heckerling feels about it, but I love the earlier start times. I just hope that doesn’t mean getting an extra hour to sulk about how the Cubs played.

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