Playing poorly against weak competition didn’t engender a great deal of optimism in the Cubs’ chances, but a pair of wins combined with the Cards’ and Brewers’ recent struggles to turn things around in a hurry. Not long after the Cubs had wrapped up a series split in Pittsburgh, Dexter Fowler struck out with the bases loaded to drop the Cardinals to five games back. The idle Brewers are in the same spot with an identical 72-68 record.
Nothing is given quite yet, but even if the Cubs play .500 baseball over the final 22 games of the season, the Brewers or Cardinals would need to go 17-5 to capture the Central. That statistical improbability is reflected in FanGraphs’ playoff odds, which have the Cubs all the way up to 97.5 percent after a nadir of 62.8 just prior to the All-Star break.
It’s really pretty remarkable when you think that the Cubs came into the second half trailing by 5.5 games in the division. Much of that 10.5-game swing has come as the result of attrition rather than the Cubs outright turning on the jets, but focusing on the defending champs’ inconsistency masks what has been a steadily improving playoff outlook.
Consider that the Cubs’ opponent in the NLDS — should they manage to make it there, of course — would be a Washington Nationals squad that could well be missing its best player. The Nats still have a formidable rotation and lineup, but they’re far from world-beaters.
Then you’ve got the Dodgers, a team USA Today’s Bob Nightengale dubbed “the Golden State Warriors in spikes” after claiming that they were “on pace to win their first World Series since 1988.” All they’ve done is lose seven straight and 12 of 13 at the same time the D-backs have run off 13 straight wins.
It’d take disparate runs of epic proportions for the teams to swap spots in the division, but they’re set for a potential NLDS matchup should Arizona survive the Wild Card crapshoot. Regardless of how that all shakes out, the Dodgers aren’t nearly the juggernaut Nightengale and others had touted up until two weeks ago.
None of this is to say that the Cubs are favorites or that they should be able to make it back to the World Series, let alone win it, but the sun breaking on the horizon continues to provide more light at it rises. With the Brewers in town this weekend, we could see those playoff odds reach even closer to 100 percent in a matter of days. Fingers crossed.