Quantifying Hope: Craig Counsell’s Steaming Pile of Pony Loaf Stumbles to 26% Playoff Odds

The good news is that there are still 93 games left in the regular season. That’s also the bad news for a Cubs team that can’t seem to do anything right for more than a game at a time. Craig Counsell has resorted to a Boise State-ish level of trickeration, bunting on three consecutive pitches Thursday night to produce his team’s only runs in a game they went on to lose by — what else? — one run.

David Ross must have been doing the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme when he saw Patrick Wisdom lay one down, awkward as it was. Then the former skipper probably made like the meme of Leo strolling joyfully when the Cubs eventually choked the game away. Counsell was supposed to be a difference-maker who helped the team improve around the margins, specifically when it came to close games.

Instead, the Cubs are 13-15 when the game has been decided by a single tally.

Their latest loss dropped them to 33-36 overall, 7.5 games behind the Brewers for first and a half-game up on the Pirates for last. But since most of the National League is playing like ass, Counsell may yet be able to roll his steaming pile of pony loaf into the postseason despite plummeting odds. After peaking at nearly 72% just over a month ago, FanGraphs has the North Siders’ chances at under 26% entering their weekend series against the Cardinals.

Rather than shovel all the crap at Counsell’s feet, let’s turn our gaze briefly to those who most deserve credit or blame for what’s happening. Jed Hoyer can’t be accused of failing to spend money since the Cubs’ actual payroll is somewhere in the $223 million range and their luxury tax number is about $10 million above that. The problem, and I know this is just rehashing a point already made several times over, is that the front office sought value in quantity rather than prioritizing quality.

The Cubs waited out the free-agent market until prices fell, which is a fine strategy if the goal is to find bargains rather than actually getting the players you want and need. And while no one is upset about landing Shōta Imanaga for $53 million, the dude has to pitch shutouts every night just to keep his team competitive.

Just like shopping for household items on Amazon, the Cubs’ roster-building strategy seems to be based on the concept that it’s best to buy less expensive items that must then be replaced with greater frequency. Why get the name brand when you can get a knockoff that’s just a random jumble of letters for half the price? After all, the prospects will be up soon enough to serve as saviors for a franchise that rose to glory on the strength of a nigh-unprecedented success rate from its best youngsters.

Owen Caissie may very well end up being an excellent big leaguer, but is he going to do what Kris Bryant did over those first few seasons in Chicago? Do they have anyone as electric as Javy Báez or with the god-tier pop of Kyle Schwarber? Where’s the next Anthony Rizzo willing to take on the entire Reds dugout while playing for a bottom-dweller?

Hoyer has assembled a group of dudes who are all best served to be a very good team’s third- or fourth-best player. That will net you a strong squad if they’re all playing at, like, the 90th percentile of their capacity, but it quickly falls apart when outcomes are a good sight less than ideal for any stretch. I’m more than willing to be wrong on this front, but I just don’t think this roster has the horsepower to make the necessary playoff push over the next few months.

I firmly believe that you shouldn’t complain about a problem if you’re not willing to fix it, that’s the whole reason this site even exists. A blockbuster trade won’t get it done unless everyone else steps up in a big way around the new addition. Getting that 90th-percentile performance across the board might be enough if the rest of the NL remains stagnant. But in the end, the bigger picture is that this franchise has been stuck neutral for longer than should be necessary or acceptable.

So unless Hoyer is willing to drop it in drive and put his foot on the gas, the Cubs need to replace him with someone who can. I’d wager ownership doesn’t feel as strongly about it, but we’ve got about 60% of the season left to find out.

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