What would it take for the Cubs to miss the playoffs?
Having shattered our wildest expectations, the Cubs look to exit the month of August with at least the same number of wins that they had all of last season. Point of fact, thanks in part to this ridiculously awesome 7 game winning streak, the Cubs have not only the best record in all of baseball but they are widely seen as being one of the most complete teams in the game.
The thing is, I'm a Cub fan. In my time, I've seen them thrashed in three separate post seasons. I've seen them collapse and narrowly miss the playoffs twice. I've seen their best, most talented, most promising players get hurt, often in freaky, bizarre ways. And on more than one occassion, they've broken my heart. I'm a Cub fan. Failure is a part of my language. Disappointment is not an expectation, it's an eventuality. Even in this moment, a part of me thinks "what would it take for them to miss the playoffs?" Because I am curious, but not because I expect it to happen - I don't even really think it's possible - I'm going to crunch the numbers.
The Cubs are 85-50. They have the best record in all of baseball, but obviously the point of this exercise is to look specifically at the National League. They now have 27 games remaining. While it's possible, I suppose, that the Cubs could go 0-27 and break all of our hearts, I'm going to argue for the sake of this article that, over the next 27 games, they will return to earth and match the worst record of any stretch this season. For the record, that 27 game stretch looks to have spanned from June 15th through til July 19th, when the Cubs went 12-15. A month of mediocre baseball, folks. Ignoring that the Cubs were down Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, and Kerry Wood during portions of that stretch, it could happen again.
That would put the Cubs at 97-65 to finish the season. Just a quick aside - let's say they lose tomorrow and then play .500 ball for their remaining 26 games, then the Cubs would be 13-14 and would finish 98-64. Anywho.
The second best record in the NL belongs to the Brewers, who are 78-56. They are the likely Wild Card team. Let's say that the Brewers go on an epic run that lands them in first place, ahead of the 97 win Cubs. They would have to go 20-8 in their remaining 28 games this season to achieve that. Hey, it's possible, right?
After the Brewers, the next best teams in the NL are the Mets, Phillies, and Cardinals. The Mets are currently 75-60, the Phillies are 73-62, and the Cardinals are 74-61.
Let's say that the Mets win their division with 98 wins. To achieve that, they would need to go 23-4. The Phillies and Cardinals also play great baseball and win 97 for a three-way Wild Card tie. Philadelphia would need to go 24-2, and St. Louis would need to go 23-3.
By the way, the Phillies play the Mets 3 more times this season, and they also battle the Brewers for 4 more games. The Mets also play the Brewers 3 times and they host the Cubs for 4 at the tail end of the season. The Cardinals play the Cubs 6 times, the Brewers play the Cubs 6 times as well. Here's where you will get dizzy.
The Brewers could only afford to lose 8 times.
The Mets 4 times.
The Cardinals 3 times.
The Phillies 2 times.
For the Phillies to win their 97 games, they'd have to sweep the Brewers and take 1 from the Mets while winning every other game.
For the Cardinals to win their 97 games, they would have to at the very least split their final 6 games with the Cubs and win every other game remaining.
For the Mets to win their 98 games, they'd have to sweep the Brewers and the Cubs, which would afford them room to lose 2 more games in September.
For the Brewers to win their 98 games and still allow for the Cardinals and Phillies room to beat the Cubs, then they would only be able to afford a single loss in the month of September after having been swept by the Phillies and Mets.
Still With Me?
Okay, so maybe that's a lot of mumbo jumbo, but here's what it comes down to. All of this is based on the argument that the Cubs are unlikely to play worse than their poorest spell of games this season. It's baseball, not math, there is no certain outcome until the last out is recorded (sorry Rob, your wife is right). The Cubs could lose more than 15 of their remaining games. The Brewers could win enough games to take the central division title. The Cardinals may be able to also overtake the floundering Cubs. But just go back and look at these projections. It's all very, very bloody unlikely.
Point of fact, maybe disappointment is an eventuality with the Cubs. But whatever disappointment is to come, it won't get here until after Game 162. Although the older readers who know better will disgustedly shake their heads, and despite the fact that Tempting Fate remains a crime punishable by hanging in 15 states including Illinois, I'm going to announce right here and now that the Cubs are playoff bound. The Brewers can cancel Christmas, the kitchen's closed, it's over.
I will say again that we will almost certainly see one final slide into mediocrity, but these guys are too good to stay there. For all my life, I've complained about how the Cubs have never won anything without leaving us in suspense until the final moments. It's been a long time since we've been able to just sit back and enjoy the beautiful thing of watching good Cubs baseball.
Finally, at long last, the Cubs have given us the chance to enjoy it. So, let's do that. And, sure, if you want to keep an alert eye on the sky in order to keep the other shoe at bay, then that is your perogative and I won't say I can blame you. But don't blame me for promoting the contrary here on this blog. I was recently described by somebody as a guy who has taken the job of convincing people that the Cubs will win the World Series (see the blog title). I think that's fair. And if ever there was a year for the unbelievable to happen ...
...well, you know where I'm going with this.