From a season high of 11 games over .500 (38-27) on June 13 after defeating the Cardinals, the Cubs dropped to two under the break-even point at 42-44 before winning Wednesday.
So that got me wondering: How many teams that have had a losing streak this long have recovered to make the postseason, or even finish over .500?
The answer is... not very many. I found this 2010 Hardball Times article that detailed teams that had lost 10 straight and finished over .500, since 1980 (and obviously only through 2010).
Of those, five had losing streaks of 11 games or longer:
1982 Braves (11), finished 89-73
1987 Brewers (12), finished 91-71
1995 Astros (11), finished 76-68
2000 Rockies (11), finished 82-80
2009 Rays (11), finished 84-78
Of those, only the 1982 Braves were a postseason team, winning the NL West before losing the NLCS to the Cardinals.
The 1987 Brewers were a curious ballclub. They began the year 13-0, and were 20-3 (!) before the 12-game losing streak dropped them to 20-15. After the losing streak they won twice, then had another losing streak of six to put them just one game over .500 at 22-21. That meant they went 9-21 after the season-opening winning streak. They ran off a six-game winning streak after that, but never got closer to first place than three games out, and finished seven games out of first place — third, behind the Tigers and Blue Jays. The manager was our old buddy Tom Trebelhorn.
The 1995 Astros missed the playoffs by one game, finishing just behind the Rockies in the wild-card race.
The 2009 Rays were the defending AL champions. They started the year poorly, got to within four games of first place at the end of June, but were far behind the Yankees when their 11-game losing streak began September 3, taking them from 72-60 to 72-71. They finished 19 games out of first place.
Since that 2010 Hardball Times article appeared, there has been just one more team that has had a losing streak of 11 games and finished with a winning record.
Inexplicably, that was the 2017 Dodgers, by far the best team in the National League that season. On August 25, they defeated the Brewers and were 91-36, 55 (!) games over .500, on pace to win a MLB record-tying 116 games. They led the NL West by 21 games.
Then they lost five in a row. After slipping by the Padres 1-0 September 1, they lost 11 straight — so overall they lost 16 of 17. They blew more than half of that 21-game lead — when that 11th straight defeat happened, 8-6 to the Giants September 11, they led by just nine games. That was good enough, as they went 12-6 the rest of the way and won 104 games, taking the NL West title by 11 games and eventually defeating the Cubs in the NLCS before losing the World Series to the trashcan-banging Astros.
Conclusion: It’s very unlikely that the 2021 Cubs could recover from the horrific losing streak that just ended and finish over .500, never mind making the postseason. The Hardball Times article makes that pretty clear — teams that have that sort of streak rarely recover, though as noted, it’s been done a few times.
This year’s Cubs do still have some time remaining to right the ship. There are 75 games left in the season. They’d probably have to win almost 50 of them to have any real shot at the division title, though they’d have to go only 39-36 to finish over .500. The latter seems doable; winning the division less likely, although the Cubs schedule does get quite a bit easier after the All-Star break.
Will it happen? We don’t know, not yet, anyway. That’s why they play the games.
How will the Cubs finish the 2021 regular season?
This poll is closed
Under .500, miss the playoffs
Exactly .500, 81-81, miss the playoffs
Over .500, but miss the playoffs
Over .500, and win one of the wild-card spots
Over .500, and win the NL Central