In light of recent above average play, I thought I'd rehash What It Would Take to make the playoffs in 2009. I don't have much time because I've already used 2 hours of work time to think about and create this, but basically, even if we play .650 ball and the rest of the teams we are chasing play .500 for the rest of the season, we'd still fall short. In fact, looking at the Cubs remaining schedule, it's entirely possible that they could go 14-5 to finish the season and even that would still leave them at 89-73, one game behind Colorado's .500 remaining ball... Ouch. Go Cubs.
The Cubs are in first! How lovely.
Considering the astounding number of talking heads and idiot columnists in the sports world these days, I'm kinda surprised no one wrote about this a few days back. The Cubs' sweep of the Reds was not an earth-shattering result, and did anyone really expect the Cardinals to beat the Phillies at home?
As a result, we get to have that, "If the season ended right now..." conversation as many times as we'd like today. Of course, we've still got more than one-third left of the season to play out before anything's decided. With that, I thought I'd take a look at both teams' upcoming schedules, to get a gauge on what's reasonable to expect going forward.
The Cubs and Cards each close out the month of July with a four-gamer. Both teams are at home, but the quality of their opponents isn't quite equal.
The Cubs take on the Astros, a team that has somehow played its way into third place in the NL Central. It's true that the offense has some pretty huge holes in it throughout the line-up. However, as you'll see in the upcoming Series Preview, the Cubs have a couple of tough pitching match-ups ahead of them. Neither of the first two games (Z vs. Wandy, Demp vs. Oswalt) will be easy wins by any means. If the Cubs drop both, they'll need Randy Wells and Kevin Hart to pitch well against Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz to salvage a series split.
At the same time, it doesn't look like the Cardinals will have much of an advantage in any of their match-ups, either. Their series probables are: Wolf vs. Carpenter, Billingsley vs. Wainwright, Kershaw vs. somebody (TBA), and Kuroda vs. Lohse. If Carp and Wainwright go nuts, the Cards might get lucky with Lohse and take three of four. More likely, they'll split, or worse.
It'll be important for the Cubs to pick up a game on their way into August, because it'll be a tough month to try to stay in the lead.
Generally, there's the issue of opponents' winning percentage. The Cards take on teams with a collective .449 winning percentage, while the Cubs take on a schedule with a .490 percentage.
There are a few key series that explain the difference in strength of schedule. The Cardinals have arguably one tough series, a three-gamer at Los Angeles. In contrast, the Cubs have three difficult series in August: four games of their own at Dodger Stadium, playing host for three games to the Phillies, and four games in Colorado against a surprisingly spunky Rockies team.
Pitching match-ups and reinforcements from the disabled list will hopefully give the Cubs the extra oomph they need to carry the division lead into September. In the meantime, it'll be important to take advantage of this next series, to try to get some breathing room before heading into August.
I’ve actually been thinking about this topic for about two weeks, and to be honest it would have probably been slightly more appropriate before the recent stretch of divine intervention, but I digress…
The 2008 Cubs were the best Cubs team I’ve ever seen. (Considering the amount of bickering that has been going on recently I’m sure this will be debated, but statistically speaking and seemingly intangibly speaking, they were one of the best.) They could beat any team and no matter the defecit, they were in every game. Almost straight through from April to September, the 2008 Cubs ran in to few glaring issues that ever threatened their chances of winning the division and they ended up clinching a week before the end of the season. That’s when the fun ended.
From one of the greatest offenses in club history to one of the biggest eggs laid in playoff history, that team took a nose dive. But that didn’t even seem to be the worst part. Nor was the worst part that they were so dominant all year and were being discussed as the easy National League representative in the World Series. The worst part wasn’t that pretty much the entire team, with a few notable exceptions, was expected to come back in 2009. The worst part wasn’t even the fact that I had accepted that we sh*t our pants in the playoffs, not even that mattered.
No, the worst part was that I was convinced that no matter how good the 2009 Cubs were, the entire season would just be one giant pressure cooker set to implode in October. I was sure that from April through September it wouldn’t matter how big our lead was, or how dominant our run differential was. The only thing that would matter would be 3 games in October.
Think about it this way: on June 22, 2008 the Cubs were 20 games over .500, had a 4.5 game lead and a +112 run differential! That team was unstoppable. I truly felt in my heart that last year was going to be the year. As we all know, it wasn’t.
Exactly 1 year later we are 3 games over .500 and only 2.5 out of first place. Oh, and our run differential? +12. Exactly 100 runs less than where we were last year at this time. That’s not going to last. This team is virtually the same lineup. They will hit. And the playoffs? No one’s talking about the playoffs; no one is saying this is a lost season unless we get out of the first round. All of the pressure right now is on having a successful season and making the first round. You could even almost make the argument that stumbling and sputtering through the first 2/5ths of the season could be the best thing to happen to this year's team. Now the pressure isn't about “Yeah, you’re winning, but what about in October? What you’re doing now doesn’t matter until you win a game in October.” The pressure is about now. It’s about a division race in the middle of the summer. Something the 0-for-October team from last year didn’t have to deal with.
I'm not being naive, either. This team is by no means perfect and currently has plenty of holes. They’ve frustrated and infuriated me all season, but this division is still there for the taking. They are the best team in the division, and I don’t think many would disagree that even in third place it is still theirs to lose. The two teams ahead of us whom we beat by 7.5 and 11 games last year? They got worse.
Look, (imagine Uncle Lou here) the point is there’s nothing wrong with a little adversity as long as you learn something from it. At this exact point last year The World Champion Phillies were coming off a 5 game losing streak (in the midst of a 1-7 stretch), only 7 games over .500 and a 1 game lead in the division. I bet anything they’d say the adversity and challenges they fought through the entire season are what propelled them to be the last team standing at the finish line. Let’s keep this in perspective. It couldn’t hurt. Go Cubs.
Obviously I'm not a genius with numbers like some of the other Goatriders, but I do like using them to predict the future and make outrageous claims. It's good fun for all.
So before I take off for a wedding this weekend, I just wanted to mention two quick things using the power of numbers and other stuff that hurts my head...
I'm not sure if Colin has ever mentioned this specific website before (he usually has a fleet of links in his posts, so by now I generally accept anything he writes as pure knowledge and fact), but I found this interesting place called coolstandings.com.
At this site, they use current statistics, career numbers/trends and transactions to constantly predict how a team will finish the season. On a daily basis, the expected records of every team in MLB changes as do the chances of each team making the playoffs.
Right now, of all the teams in Major League Baseball, the Cubs have an 83.9% chance of making it to the postseason (best in the league). Coolstandings calculates the Cubs have a 64.2% chance of winning the NL Central and a 19.6% chance of taking the wildcard. Not bad.
And while the Cubs have the best chance of making it to the playoffs based on these numbers, can you guess which team has the best overall chance of winning their division? You guessed it, the White Sox. According to this site, they have a 72.9% chance of winning the AL Central.
I have yet to weigh in on Rich Harden despite the explosion of content in the universe about the recent trade.
So now you're going to sit down and listen to everything I have to say about it! Yeah, that's right. And you're going to like it...Wait! Don't leave. Don't close your browser. I was just kidding. You can read it if you want. I'd like if you did sir.
Anyway, there has been a lot of talk about the "I" word and Harden's dipping velocity, but I want to talk about his line this weekend against San Francisco.
In his first start with the Cubs, Rich has the advantage of facing a team he has already dominated this year in the Giants. Back on June 14 at San Francisco, Harden threw 6 innings of solid baseball in which he gave up 0 runs on 1 hit with 9 strikeouts.
While the expectations from the fans will be high and the scrutiny from the media will be harsh, I expect Rich to have similar numbers against the Giants on Saturday. Here is my predicted line...
5 IP, 1 ER, 3H, 6 K/1 BB...0 "I" words
I really can not see Lou letting Rich go more than 5 innings (expect to see some bullpen action the second Harden goes over 80 pitches and he gets into any kind of trouble), but he should be able to dominate in those five innings.
Realistically, if he allows 3 or less runs in about 5 innings then I think the Cubs have a solid chance of winning the game...and that is always the most important thing.