Although there are still 85 games left in the regular season, it’s never a bad time to take a realistic look at how the Cubs stack up against the rest of baseball. The Cubs are still atop of the divisional standings, but they have not been able to separate themselves from the logjam of the NL Central. This is especially concerning given how bad the Brewers have been playing the last couple of weeks. On top of that, the Cardinals are right back in the hunt after their brutal stretch in May. And to everyone’s surprise, the Reds are only 5.5 games back and boast the second best run differential in the division. Here is a look at how the division stacks up right now:
Personally, I think the Cubs have underachieved so far this season. Having said that, top to bottom the Central is not only the best division in the National League but also probably the best in all of baseball. It’s incredibly difficult to string together wins in a division that doesn’t feature any bottom-feeders like the two in both the American League East and Central, in addition to the Marlins in the NL East. On the flip side of that logic, it is entirely possible that the NL Central is made up of a bunch of good, but not great, teams that continue to beat up on each other. It’s difficult to decipher if the NL Central has a true World Series contender, and it’s something baseball will probably not know until October.
Now, I am a big proponent of looking at run differential to assess how the rest of the season will play out. To the Cubs’ favor, they have the sixth-best run differential in all of baseball and second-best in the NL. Achieving this feat while playing in an ultra-competitive division is something to be proud of, and it indicates that their success thus far is sustainable moving forward. In addition, the Brewers being six games above .500 with a -1 run differential is entirely unsustainable and almost impossible to replicate in the second half of the season.
Although the Cubs have the NL Central’s best run differential, there is a far more telling story if you look deeper into the statistics. Through the first 39 games, the Cubs had a +56 run differential and were arguably the best team in baseball. Over the last 38 games, that number is all the way down to +3. The team has been playing .500 ball for the last month and a half. I know that baseball features a lot of peaks and valleys throughout a 162 game season, but both of those sample sizes are the same amount of games. It’s hard to tell which stretch is more indicative of how the Cubs will play for the second half of the season.
If you look at the top of the rest of the National League, the Dodgers have a +133 run differential and are steamrolling through the rest of the National League. Additionally, the Braves have been red hot lately, separating themselves from the Phillies and the rest of the NL East. While the other two divisions in the NL have teams taking control, the NL Central continues to remain completely up for grabs. The Brewers have been trying to give the Cubs complete control of the division the past two weeks and the Cubs have failed to capitalize. It’s disappointing and speaks to the lack of focus and determination with this ball club.
I still believe the team can get back to the dominance it possessed back in 2016 because the core of the roster has not changed at all since then. However, at some point fans need to be realistic about the production that is being displayed on the field. After collapsing down the stretch of last season, which featured losing a divisional tiebreaker game and the NL Wild Card game both at Wrigley Field, you would think there would be more of a sense of urgency with this ball club. There isn’t. I realize that the Cubs have won 90+ games each of the last four seasons, had three straight NLCS appearances from 2015-2017, and won a World Series in 2016. They have dominated the MLB landscape for the last four years. But can they realistically compete with the Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, and Twins for a World Championship in 2019? It’s tough to confidently answer that question on either side of the spectrum right now.
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