Quantifying Hope: Cubs’ Playoff Odds Drop as They Get Even Younger
Over the last few weeks that I’ve been chronicling the Cubs’ playoff odds, they’ve been close enough to 100 percent to have been busted for PDA. Had they taken that last game in Washington, I have no doubt things would have escalated to heavy petting. That’s perhaps an odd metaphor, given that the Cubs get past second base all the time, but I think it’s fun to say “heavy petting.”
There is a deliciously immature little coincidence involving that last pair of words too, but I’m going to keep it a mystery. I’ll offer one hint though: it’s nice.
What’s not quite as nice is how the Cubs are no longer the postseason locks they were even a week ago, when their odds stood at 98.8 percent. I wrote at the time that the Cubs had flatlined, which would be an improvement over what we’re looking at this time around. With the Cardinals closing to within 10 games of the division lead and the Cubs hovering at .500 over their last 10, the North Siders’ odds have plummeted to 98.5 percent.
But hey, things could be worse: the Pirates enter the series at Wrigley having gone 3-7 in their last 10 (last last two) and without both Gerrit Cole and Francisco Cervelli. They’re now at .500 (33-33) on the season and their odds have dropped to 10.7 percent. Woof.
Obviously, the Cubs losing three-tenths of a percent is not really cause for alarm. In fact, it could be part of what prompted them to call Willson Contreras up Thursday in a bit of a surprise move. One blogger in particular actually wrote that very morning that the top prospect would remain at Iowa until September. Then he doubled down on the dumb, claiming that the move was likely a response to either David Ross or Miggy Montero hitting the DL.
We’re all wrong from time to time, it’s just that some of us put it out there for everyone to see. Hey, maybe that means I should run for president!
After looking at Contreras in particular and exactly how the Cubs can deploy him for maximum efficacy, I started to think about what this means for the team. I had recently written about how the team’s youth had become such a strength, and here they were getting even younger.
Think about it: the Cubs could easily start a lineup made up only of players age 26 and under. And it’d be darn good too. A battery of Contreras (24) and Kyle Hendricks (26) would be backed up by Anthony Rizzo (26) at first, Javy Baez (23), Addison Russell (22), Kris Bryant (24), Jorge Soler (24), Albert Almora (22), and Jason Heyward (26). Feel like I’m cheating by adding in a disabled Soler? Fine, put Matt Szczur (26) in there.
Know what’s really crazy here? Szczur is actually the oldest among that group, though only by a couple weeks over Rizzo and Heyward.
I just can’t get over the fact that such a lineup, while somewhat improbable, is entirely possible. And it very much resembles those comment section projections that I would have laughed at even a last year. You can’t just list off a bunch of farmhands, all but three of whom came over in trades, and then throw in a big-name free agent and have it happen. But that’s exactly what the Cubs have done.
At this point, I feel as though Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are reading Cubs Insider and then making moves just to spite me. That would actually be pretty cool on one level, since it would mean they read words I write (Hi, Theo!). Then again, it would mean that doing the opposite of what I say is the secret to building a great team. Frowny face.
Whether they’re doing it just to mess with me or because it makes sense, the Cubs seem to be making all the right moves. But what’s really interesting to me is how the motivation for calling up the young guys has been different in each case.
When Baez came up in 2014, it was to provide a spark to a moribund team and because the pressure to win was minimal. When Kris Bryant came up, it was because time had finally run out on his arbitration clock and he had nothing left to prove at AAA. Addison Russell followed right on his heels because why the hell not. That was actually a little bit of a surprise, but Russell’s glove was ready and the Cubs were starting to show that they might actually have something.
Then you had Kyle Schwarber, who was only 22 and had absolutely mashed his way through the minors. He came up just to demoralize AL opponents as a DH in the midst of a promotion to AAA, but came back a month later and electrified the Cubs in their playoff run. And he’s not even in the lineup above, man.
Oh yeah, there’s also Jorge Soler, who tuned up minor league pitching when he wasn’t hurt and whose contract structure helped to facilitate his upward mobility even if his hamstrings didn’t. In all seriousness, though, Soler has the potential to be special…if he can just remain consistent.
The most recent promotions of Almora and Contreras have come because this team is now strong enough to allow for a little intelligent experimentation. When you’ve got nearly a 10-game lead in the division, it gives you the ability to bring up some young guys without having to place the weight of expectation on their shoulders. It’s a little more than that, though, as these new additions are expected to make the team stronger.
I continue to be amazed by just how far this team has come in such a short time and by how much room they still have to get better. That will be on full display as they host the Pirates and Cardinals at Wrigley over the next six days. Gonna be some fun stuff to watch.