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The Cubs Are Fine And There’s No Reason To Panic — Yet

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That .500 record isn’t as bad as you think it is.

It’s gonna be okay, Jake.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Cubs fans entered the season to the first banner raising and ring ceremonies in the history of Wrigley Field. The Cubs were on top of the power rankings for ESPN and Sports Illustrated. Dreams of repeats danced in our heads.

And then. Reality.

Last season on May 13 the Cubs were 26-8. This season, they’re 18-17. The talk of juggernauts and repeats has turned to discussions of lower velocity, who will the Cubs have to trade for a pitcher, are they complacent, and can they turn it around?

Take a deep breath everyone. It’s the middle of May and while I’m not as blindly optimistic as I was in April, there are a couple of very big differences between this year and last year.

Reason 1: Opponent Strength

Last year the Cubs built that massive lead in the division by solidly beating teams who were under .500. Here are the series by series results for the start of 2016:

Cubs 2016 Early Opponent Schedule & Record

Opponent Series Result Season Record Season Win %
Opponent Series Result Season Record Season Win %
LAA 2-0 74-88 0.457
ARI 3-1 69-93 0.426
CIN 6-1 68-94 0.420
MIL 2-0 73-89 0.451
ATL 1-1 68-93 0.422
PIT 3-0 78-83 0.484
WSN 4-0 95-67 0.586
COL 1-2 75-87 0.463
STL 2-1 86-76 0.531
Cubs Early 2016 Record Baseball Reference & MLB

Notice, only two of those opponents (Washington and St. Louis) ended the year with a record above .500. Only one of those opponents was in the post-season. In short, we took advantage of an easy early schedule to build up a large lead.

Don’t believe me? Here is the Cubs’ overall record against all opponents for 2016. With a couple of exceptions, again you’ll see they won big against opponents who were weak and played closer to .500-ish ball against opponents who were playoff bound. Put another way? The Cubs were 86-44 against opponents who weren’t in the playoffs last year and 17-14 against teams that were.

Record by Opponent 2016

Opponent W L Cubs W-L% Overall W-L%
Opponent W L Cubs W-L% Overall W-L%
LAA 4 0 1.000 0.457
OAK 3 0 1.000 0.426
PHI 5 1 0.833 0.438
CIN 15 4 0.789 0.420
PIT 14 4 0.778 0.484
ARI 5 2 0.714 0.426
WSN 5 2 0.714 0.586
HOU 2 1 0.667 0.519
SDP 4 2 0.667 0.420
SEA 2 1 0.667 0.531
TEX 2 1 0.667 0.586
MIL 11 8 0.579 0.451
LAD 4 3 0.571 0.562
MIA 4 3 0.571 0.491
SFG 4 3 0.571 0.537
STL 10 9 0.526 0.531
ATL 3 3 0.500 0.422
CHW 2 2 0.500 0.481
COL 2 4 0.333 0.463
NYM 2 5 0.286 0.537
Overall Cubs Record by Opponent W-L% Baseball Reference

Now, I’ll be honest. The Cubs aren’t likely to repeat last year’s numbers. It would be pretty crazy for us to have a .500 or better record against all but two teams again. But the Cubs have already played a substantially harder schedule this year than at any point last year just by virtue of swapping out the A.L. West with the A.L. East. Additionally, Milwaukee and Cincinnati look stronger than last year. In fact, according to the MLB Relative Power Index, the Cubs have played the fifth-hardest schedule so far in 2017.

Reason 2: The Weather

I can’t find the original cite for this, but last week during one of the many podcasts/shows I listen to, they mentioned that the Cubs have played the coldest schedule in the major leagues so far this year. Last year they started in Anaheim and Phoenix, this year we started in St. Louis and Milwaukee (granted, Milwaukee is indoors). They didn’t just trade the A.L. West’s record for the A.L. East’s record, they also traded for their weather. Fenway Park is lovely, but Boston is not Anaheim. The Cubs have yet to play a series in a warm weather city and the weather hasn’t been particularly kind during Cubs starts in the North.

This is admittedly anecdotal, but last year during the first weekend in May I was jacketless in the grandstand, this year I was huddled under a blanket trying not to catch hypothermia. Last Sunday the Cubs played 18 innings in the type of 40 degree Chicago weather that feels much colder and then traveled to Colorado for this:

Baseball is a warm-weather sport, and it can’t help the team to be playing 13- and 18-inning marathons in frigid weather this early.

Are there legitimate warning signs that things may go awry this season? Yes. The otherworldly defense has returned to Earth, Jake Arrieta is off to a pretty rough start, and there appears to be more parity in the N.L. Central this year, which is certainly going to hurt our ability to run up the score with a lot of division wins this year. But this is still fundamentally the same team that won it all last year, and I’m not ready to hit the panic button just yet. As of this writing the Cubs are still the fifth-best team in the Majors by fWAR, and number 4 in the ESPN Power Rankings. Oh, and warm weather is just around the corner.