Baseball isn’t solely a math exercise, but statistics remain a big deal for NL Wild Card fans and analysts. As August turns to September and the countdown to the postseason gets serious, that math is beginning to strongly favor one contender in particular — the Chicago Cubs.
That Wild Card race shapes up as one to watch over the final four weeks with a half-dozen teams competing for three spots. The Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Miami Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks are all within three games of a qualifying position.
Beyond that, they spend much of the final four weeks playing each other. In the next 10 days alone, the Chicago Cubs will play series against the Reds, Giants and Diamondbacks. That means, by mid-September, there’s a chance that the Wild Card hierarchy is a lot more clear.
For the moment, the Phillies hold the rail position at 74-59. That’s three games ahead of the Cubs, who are in turn two games ahead of the Giants. Arizona trails San Francisco by one-half game, Cincinnati is one out and Miami lags by three.
The interesting aspect is that if the math proves accurate, one of those teams (the Cubs) may not even be in the Wild Card race down the stretch because the Cubs may have overtaken the Brewers for the NL Central Division lead. After winning two of three this week at Wrigley Field, the Cubs trail Milwaukee by three.
Why the Chicago Cubs may have an edge over the Milwaukee Brewers
Looking at the two teams’ Pythagorean records, Chicago has a legit chance to make a run at the Brewers. For those unfamiliar with Pythagorean calculations, they project what a team’s record ought to be based on its actual run production and run prevention for the season.
Placed alongside the teams’ actual records, the Pythagorean numbers deliver a chilling warning to Brewers fans that their club’s three-game lead isn’t as secure as they might like to think.
Here are the actual and Pythagorean NL Central standings for the playoff contenders side-by-side.
Milwaukee 74-59 Chicago 74-59
Chicago 71-62 Milwaukee 69-64
Cincinnati 69-66 Cincinnati 65-70
The performance numbers clearly show that while the Brewers hold a three-game edge in the real world, the Cubs are five games better by the numbers. More ominous is the fact that just a couple of months ago the Cubs were underperforming their Pythagorean projection by close to 10 games; that gap has now been narrowed to just three games. The breaks, in short, are doing what they generally do — evening out.
If that pattern continues in September, there’s a real chance that the Cubs close that three-game real-world gap.
For Cubs fans, the Wild Card numbers are even more favorable. While their real world record continues to lag their Pythagorean record by three games — a sign that better things are soon to come — the opposite is true for almost all of their Wild Card rivals. Including Milwaukee in the group, here are the actual and Pythagorean records for the contending teams, the Braves and Dodgers excepted.
Actual Pythagorean Pyth. Diff.
Phillies 74-59 74-59 0
Brewers 74-59 69-64 -5
Giants 69-64 67-66 -2
Diamondbacks 69-65 65-69 -4
Reds 69-66 65-70 -4
Marlins 66-67 60-73 -6
So while the Cubs are underperforming their Pythagorean projection by three games, the Brewers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Reds and Marlins are all overperforming their projections by margins ranging from two to six games.
If that trend holds, September may find the Cubs (and Phillies) pulling away from their fellow contenders. It may also find the Cubs honing in on and overhauling the Brewers.
The only question is whether Pythagoras was much of a baseball analyst.