Don’t You Forget About Me: It’s Not Just The Cardinals The Cubs Are Chasing
There has been a lot of fan chatter about the Cubs setting their sights on the Cardinals, and with good reason. The Cubs have set the bar at winning the division, with Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon, and Anthony Rizzo making statements on the topic at varying points of the offseason. After having won the division the last two years, as well as making the playoffs five times in six years, the Cards are the obvious target.
It’s not just the people on the Cubs side that are taking notice, either. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak had this to say about the Cubs last month:
“As an outsider looking in, they certainly have their foot on the pedal. Obviously, when you watched their club play this year, they were trending upwards. And obviously some of their offseason moves have made them stronger. But one of the things we try to focus on is our own club and not really worry about what our competitors are doing. The Central division has gotten stronger.”
Indeed, the Cubs have gotten stronger. But I find it key that he mentions the entire Central division, not just the Northsiders. The rest of the division gets lost in the shuffle, and that’s unfair to them. The Pirates have made the playoffs two years in a row, the Brewers have been competitive the last few years, and the Reds are 30 games over .500 over the last three seasons.
Is the NL Central the strongest division in baseball? Although the AL West and NL West are stronger overall, an argument could be made that the NL Central is the most competitive. With the Cubs no longer punting seasons away at the Major League level, there’s no clear last-place team in the division.
Sure, the Reds don’t look very strong, but they’re not exactly the 2003 Tigers. And what’s more, Cincy is 37-17 against the Cubs since 2012.
Beating the Cardinals won’t be enough to win in 2015. The Cubs haven’t fared well against their own division for a while, and they need to turn those statistics around to be a real contender. In 2014 the Cubs went 11-8 against the Brewers, and that was the first time they had a winning record against anyone currently in the division since 2010.
You might try to justify a bad record against the division with the fact that they’ve been bad overall the last several years, but you’d be wrong. In the Theo era, the Cubs have gone 81-137 (.371) against NL Central teams and 119-149 (.444) against non-division opponents. Based on winning percentage alone, that’s the difference between winning 60 and 72 games in a season.
Why the lack of divisional dominance? They’ve had their share of guys that they just cannot seem to solve. Check out these numbers for divisional players against the Cubs:
Ryan Braun- .335/.414/.558
Andrew McCutchen- .331/.440/.533
Yadier Molina- .310/.367/.449
Neil Walker- .277/.343/.508
Matt Holliday- .312/.419/.619 (since 2012)
Mat Latos- 7-2, 2.90 ERA
Francisco Liriano- 4-2, 2.30 ERA
Adam Wainwright- 11-4, 3.40 ERA (since 2008)
Sometimes guys just have your number, but the Cubs can no longer make excuses for losing so many games within the division. To be one of the best, they need to beat up on the lesser teams. Holding their own against the Cards and Pirates while winning the season series against the Reds and Brewers would be a great start. And with 25 of their first 31 games against division opponents, we could quickly get a really good idea of just how competitive the Cubs will be in 2015.