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A look at Cubs 60-game stretches over the last 20 seasons

How will the Cubs do in a 60-game season? Here’s some historical data.

John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

We are going to have a 60-game 2020 MLB season, presuming the announcement from the Commissioner’s office comes to pass and the novel coronavirus pandemic doesn’t cancel everything. I addressed that earlier this morning, but for now, let’s talk some actual baseball.

Just in case MLB does manage to complete a 60-game season, let’s have a look at what the Cubs have done in 60 games from 2000-19 in three ways:

  • The first 60 games of each season,
  • Their best 60-game stretch of each season, and
  • Their worst 60-game stretch of each season.

Note: In some cases, for the latter two, there were multiple 60-game stretches with identical records.

60-game stretches for the Cubs, 2000-2019

Year First 60 Best 60 Worst 60
Year First 60 Best 60 Worst 60
2000 25-35 33-27 18-42
2001 37-23 38-22 27-33
2002 24-36 30-30 22-38
2003 33-27 38-22 26-34
2004 31-29 38-22 30-30
2005 33-27 33-27 25-35
2006 24-36 28-32 17-43
2007 27-33 36-24 27-33
2008 38-22 39-21 33-27
2009 30-30 34-26 27-33
2010 27-33 29-31 22-38
2011 24-36 31-29 21-39
2012 20-40 28-32 17-43
2013 25-35 31-29 19-41
2014 25-35 31-29 25-35
2015 33-27 42-18 30-30
2016 42-18 42-18 30-30
2017 30-30 39-21 27-33
2018 36-24 39-21 33-27
2019 34-26 37-23 28-32

This data comes with this caveat: I didn’t note the Cubs’ position in the standings for each season or how other teams in their division or league were doing at the time.

But in one sense, that doesn’t matter. Looking down the list of Cubs teams over the last 20 seasons, it seems that the first 60 games are generally a pretty good indication of where the team was going to finish up. Good Cubs teams from 2000-19 usually started out well and bad teams didn’t. There are, of course, exceptions: The 2001 team roared off to a great start, then faded and finished third. The lousy teams of the rebuild years were lousy at the start, but even then a couple of those teams had 60-game stretches in which they posted winning records.

Of the four Cubs playoff teams from 2015-18, the only real outlier is the 2017 club, which muddled around .500 for more than half the season — they were actually under .500 at the All-Star break — then had a good finish to win 92 games. As you might imagine, the 28-32 “worst 60” of the 2019 team happened at the end of the season, when they collapsed and failed to make the postseason.

The 2019 Nationals have been noted as an exception to this sort of thing. They started 19-31, then went 74-38 the rest of the regular season to finish 93-69. That’s something nearly impossible to do, it’s an extreme outlier. The 2005 Astros, who made the World Series but didn’t win it, did something similar. They started 15-30, then went 74-43 to win the N.L. Wild Card, and eventually the pennant.

But doing that over three or four months is really, really hard. Even the great 103-win 2016 World Series champion Cubs had a stretch where they went 5-15.

My conclusion is: Though 60 games is only 37 percent of the usual MLB season of 162 games, in general it seems to be enough to find out whether a team is good or bad. We are not likely going to see the 2020 Detroit Tigers or Baltimore Orioles suddenly go 35-25 over 60 games and make the postseason. The Tigers’ best 60-game stretch in 2019 was 23-37. For Baltimore it was 24-36.

Could there be a freak bad team that has a just-good-enough 60-game season this year and sneaks in? Maybe. The awful 2013 Cubs had a 31-29 stretch, a record like that might be good enough for the second wild-card spot in one of the leagues.

But most likely, the good teams over 162 games are going to be good over 60 games. It does depend, somewhat, on how teams approach this 60-game season. Will they look at it as it essentially is — August and September baseball, with a sense of urgency — or as the first 60, from Opening Day? No team has had to approach a 60-game stretch this way, ever.

We will find out soon. And isn’t it nice to talk actual baseball?