Quantifying Hope: Cubs’ Playoff Odds Well Over 90% as August Winds Down

When I wrote July’s version of QH, the Cubs weren’t necessarily in the best place. They were 5 games behind the Pirates for 2nd place in the NL Central and the top Wild Card spot and they had fallen 1 game behind the Giants for the 2nd WC spot. They had even dropped as far as 2.5 games back for a few days and a sweep at the hands of the Phillies had fans fearing the worst. Funny what a few winning streaks will do to quiet the rabble though.

Since July 29th, the Cubs have rattled off strings of 6, 9, and 6 W’s and had won 21 of 25 games, their best stretch of baseball in 77 years. With 4 games left in the month, the Cubs are 18-6 in August and are 4 games behind Pittsburgh and 5.5 ahead of San Francisco. Even after consecutive losses in the Bay Area and an upcoming series in LA, though, the Cubs’ chances heading into September will be much better than a month ago.

When July closed, the Cubs’ playoff odds stood at 54.6% (according to Baseball Prospectus). After just one week, that mark had risen to 72.2% and after two weeks, it was up to 90.3%. Three consecutive losses to the White Sox and Tigers had the odds down to a measly 80.8%, but that all changed with a 4-game sweep of the Braves and victories over the Indians and Giants.

A quick look at the graph of this season’s playoff-odds trends gives you a nice visual representation of what it’s felt like to be a Cubs fan in 2015. Hope has grown as the year has gone on, but there have been a few precipitous drops sprinkled in there intermittently. I’ll take that over the Nationals’ line though, which fell off a cliff in late July; they went from 81.2% on 7/30 to 8.2% on 8/27. Wow.


Up to this point, I’ve looked solely at BP’s playoff odds calculations, but I do want to take a quick look at those from FanGraphs as well. Not that they’re much different, but it’s nice to compare the two. According to FG, the Cubs opened August with a 53.1% chance of making the postseason and moved up to 65.4%, 89.3%, and 85.8% at the time benchmarks referenced above. The high-water mark in this set of odds, however, was 97.7%.

As it sits right now, BP has the Cubs with a 92.6% chance to play more than 162 games and FanGraphs has them at 94.7%, both pretty solid numbers. Those sites project 92 and 93 wins, respectively, crazy totals when you really think about it. Heading into the season, 85 wins would have been a bit of a surprise; not a shock, but certainly the type of record you could be really happy with. Now we’re looking at a likelihood of 90+ wins just to capture the 2nd Wild Card spot.

This Cubs team has outperformed expectations all season long, though the journey hasn’t been without its scary moments. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to hang on for another stomach-churning drop. Of course, that may also mean dirtying up a bit of your soul by cheering for the Cardinals this weekend as they take the Cubs’ place in the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park. If the Redbirds can put a hurtin’ on the Giants, it’ll go a long way toward securing a Cubs playoff berth.

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