Quantifying Hope: Cubs at 65.3% Playoff Odds, Fall Behind Brewers After Recent Stumbles

The last week hasn’t been particularly kind to the Cubs, with a 3-3 road trip followed by a series-opening loss to the Pirates last night. Injuries have forced Craig Counsell to mix and match in the bullpen and the lineup by taking a lesser-of-multiple-evils approach. But when your starting middle infield features dudes with sub-.600 OPS marks and your catchers are at .506 or lower, no amount of duct tape will hold things together.

With 11 strikeouts and just one walk on Thursday, it was evident the Cubs were overmatched. Nick Madrigal at least came through with an RBI single, but he struck out twice and flailed with one of the ugliest swings you’ll ever see this side of Javy Báez. Miles Mastrobuoni contributed a hit as well, going 1-for-4 to raise his average to .167 on the season. While either could be seen as a role-player on a strong team, you can’t win consistently with them both out there regularly.

If forced to choose between the two, which may be the case once Nico Hoerner‘s hamstring is good and Dansby Swanson returns, I’d opt for Mastrobuoni. Despite his lower offensive numbers, he provides more defensive versatility and is much faster to boot. I was shocked to learn that Madrigal is just barely behind the aforementioned starters in terms of sprint speed, but his baserunning has left a bit to be desired. Even with his solid play at third base, his only real path to providing value is by taking advantage of what was supposed to be his primary tool.

Dude is supposed to be a very good hitter and he showed that with a .317 average in limited action on the South Side. Since moving across town, however, he’s batting .254 with a .623 OPS and .062 ISO that ranks third-lowest among 347 players with at least 500 plate appearances since 2022. Through 74 PAs this season, he’s batting .235 with a .576 OPS and .044 ISO. He needs to bat .250 just to be a replacement-level player, so it would take him getting to .300 or so to have a real impact.

Sorry to spend so much time bagging on one guy who shouldn’t even be in there regularly anyway, let’s move on. The Cubs are going to struggle to find any kind of consistent play as long as they keep having to replace regulars. It doesn’t help that Justin Steele has struggled with hard contact in his last two starts and Seiya Suzuki will sometimes whiff on routine flies and liners.

The Cubs are still five games over .500 and sit very comfortably in second place with a five-game cushion over the Pirates, so that’s good. They’re also 3.5 games up in the Wild Card and have 16 games against the Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, and White Sox coming up after they host the Braves next week. Those teams are a combined 20 games under .500, and that’s with Milwaukee being nine over.

As such, the Cubs can easily close the gap in the standings and vault past the Brewers once again on the chart below. Pretty simple, right?

I’ll close by remarking once again on how utterly foolish it was for anyone to have installed the Cardinals as preseason favorites for the division. That whole organization has been broken for a while and it was clear last season, yet somehow the talking heads who love the smell of their own farts thought adding a bunch of aging starters to the rotation would turn things around. Yeah, that’s gone swimmingly.

Back to the Cubs quickly as they have three more against the Pirates followed by another three with the Braves. All they need to do for the next week is tread water while guys get healthy. The real work is going to happen over the following two-plus weeks with that stretch mentioned above. They can’t win or lose anything in 16 games, though they can most definitely take a big step in one direction or the other.

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