The Chicago Cubs are a very good baseball team, that much has never been in question. Well, not in the last 18 months or so. But a series of epic beatdowns of the Reds, in the midst of which the Cubs magnanimously opted to take one on the collective chin so as not to completely snuff out the dying ember of hope still burning in the Queen City, has me thinking that to call them merely “very good” would a vast understatement.
And I’m not the only one, either. Some folks are going so far as to say that this is the greatest Cubs team, not in recent memory, but of all time. Okay, well, at least one person is saying that.
This is the best Cubs team ever. Don't @ me.
— Stan (@Crewsett) April 24, 2016
I don’t know if that’s taking it far enough though.
@DEvanAltman At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this could be the greatest baseball team of all time.
— TJ (@TJinBloNo) April 23, 2016
With a 14-5 record through 19 games, the Cubs are on pace for an MLB-record 119 wins, three more than the 2001 Mariners and that great Cubs team from 110 years ago. While this modern-day version’s .737 winning percentage would fall 30 points shy of its predecessor’s .767 (116-36) mark — not to mention that of the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates (103-36; .741), I think we can all agree that changes in the game allow for a little wiggle room.
Besides, I’m sure those old-timey Cubs and Pirates teams would have lost a few more over the course of the additional 12 or 23 games, respectively.
And while win-loss records provide a nice basis for argument, we’ve also got to look at how the wins are coming. With a +68 run differential, the Cubs are on pace to outscore opponents by 580 runs this season. Five hundred eighty. The ’27 Yankees, they of the famed “Murderer’s Row,” pushed across a mere 376 more runs than their opponents. Their brethren from ’39 actually hold the record for run differential with a +411 tally.
Using a little not-so-gory math, I’d say this means the Cubs are roughly 41% better than that latter Yankees team. And that’s being conservative.
The only potential blemish comes in terms of runs scored, where the Cubs’ projected total of 1,014 would place them 15th on the all-time list, 106 runs behind the 1894 Boston Beaneaters for first place. But there are only four teams since the turn of the 20th century (1950 Red Sox, 1930, ’36, and ’31 Yankees) among the top 16 at this point and the Cubs aren’t playing in any ballparks with 500-foot fences that allow hitters to run forever.
There’s also a little-know sabrmetric adjustment that holds that any team stats compiled in a era in which radio and/or black-and-white television was the primary means through which fans consumed the game must be reduced by 25 percent. Hence, that 1,220 figure drops to 915 and the 2016 Cubs blow past it with ease.
I’m sure a lot of you out there are thinking, “I totally agree with your ironclad theories, Evan, but what about the fact that the Cubs have generally drafted behind metaphorical tanker trucks thus far in the season?” That’s a very valid point, particularly if your employment involves pushing editorial mandates for sky-is-falling narratives, but I can deftly parry and riposte with the epee of logic.
Rather than drag you through a morass of metrics, I’ll simply say this: The Cubs obviously haven’t started trying yet. Do you realize how boring this season would be if they really opened up the throttle? Joe Maddon has been keeping J-Hey at bay, Soler has yet to really shine, and War Bear was forced into hibernation. And take Jake Arrieta’s recent no-hitter, in which he walked four Reds batters. Dude was trying to give them a chance, it’s not his fault they kept punting on second down.
Speaking of mixing sports metaphors, maybe we need to recalibrate our assessments to include more than just baseball.
@DEvanAltman what I meant to say was, this could be the greatest collection of talent in the history of organized sport.
— TJ (@TJinBloNo) April 23, 2016
The ’96 Bulls would would perhaps provide an adequate comp, but they lacked the overall depth to compete with the Cubs. Tommy La Stella > Dickey Simpkins, is really what I’m saying here. And as much as I don’t want to draw the ire of Mercury Morris, his ’72 Dolphins can’t hold a candle to the Cubs. Now the ’85 Bears? That, my frents, may be an argument to consider.
I’m sure there have been great hockey and footy squads too, but I don’t know enough about the history of either to present a rational argument for those sports. Regardless, whatever great teams you can come up with surely pale in comparison to the effervescent technicolor glory that is the 2016 Cubs.
So now that we’ve definitively established this Cubs team as the “greatest collection of talent in the history of organized sport,” I feel the need to push the envelope a little. Thus, after consulting various historical texts, I have come to the incontrovertible conclusion that we are now bearing witness to the most impressive organization of talent in the history of organized talent. If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around that, just picture Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Samson, Hercules, and The Avengers all teaming up to play baseball.
Not a fan of heroes from epic poems, The Bible, or comic books? Fine, let’s look at it another way. The Cubs could have held off the Persians at Thermopylae with only 25 men instead of the 300 warriors Sparta required. Or how about the trickery employed by the Greeks in their siege of Troy? Rather than concealing themselves inside a wooden horse, Bryzzo would need only walk up to the gates of the city and demand the Trojans’ unconditional surrender.
The Cubs could have finished the Hundred Years’s War in no more than a month. They could put a stop to the Crying Jordan meme’s ubiquity. I’d venture to guess they could even prevent Curt Schilling from stepping in it and then putting his foot in his mouth. I know, I know, that’s probably going too far. Still, they’re that good.
Some of you perhaps remain skeptical, and that is to be expected. But I write in the hope that you’ll come to a clear realization of just how special this season is, and that you can savor each slice of living history this Cubs team is prepared to offer you as they operate a full-service buffet of awesomeness throughout the season.