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Cubs Fans: Wait ’Til Next Year (Your Odds Are Good)

League-championship losers are even odds to get back to the playoffs, but winning it all is hard. Just ask the Cardinals, with two World Series rings in nine playoff trips over 21 years.

The other kind of Schwarbomb   Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune

The Cubs’ exciting season came to an ignominious end last night, swept in four not very competitive or interesting games by the Mets in which Daniel Murphy—“baseball’s most average regular, the game’s equivalent of vanilla ice cream,” according to baseball analytics site Fangraphs—hit just as many home runs as the entire Cubs team.

Some of this can be chalked up to actual flaws with the Cubs. The team’s seeming disinterest in holding runners on base has been an ongoing storyline all year, as they allowed the second-most stolen bases on the second-worst caught-stealing percentage; they gave up seven stolen bases to the Mets, some critical, and Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs breaks down just how easy the most critical of those stolen bases was.

Some of it just seems like bad luck—they hit poorly, yes, but the Cubs didn’t get a hit to lead off an inning until the fourth inning of Game Four. As of late in Game Four, the Cubs were .583 on hitting balls more than 100 miles an hour during the series, about 100 points lower than their postseason overall; the Mets hit .900, about 230 points higher than their overall postseason.

Billy Beane, the longtime general manager for the Oakland A’s whose skills building a regular contender on the cheap never brought him a World Series title, once said “my shit doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get to the playoffs. What happens after that is fucking luck.” There are ways to game that luck, but not eliminate it; the best strategy is to build a good team and keep going back. And in that sense, the Cubs are in a good position.

I looked at what happened to the losers of both League Championship Series going back to the beginning of the Wild Card system in 1995. And just getting to the championship round suggests a team has good odds of getting back to the playoffs the next year.

Year National League Championship Series Losers Next Year American League Championship Series Losers Next Year
1995 CIN Missed SEA Missed
1996 STL Missed BAL Lost ALCS
1997 ATL Lost NLCS BAL Missed
1998 ATL Lost NLCS CLE Lost ALDS
1999 NYM Lost WS BOS Missed
2000 STL Lost NLDS SEA Lost ALCS
2001 ATL Lost NLDS SEA Missed
2002 STL Missed MIN Lost ALDS
2003 CHC Missed BOS Won WS
2004 HOU Lost WS NYY Lost ALDS
2005 STL Won WS LAA Missed
2006 NYM Missed OAK Missed
2007 ARI Missed CLE Missed
2008 LAD Lost NLCS BOS Lost ALDS
2009 LAD Missed LAA Missed
2010 PHI Missed NYY Lost ALDS
2011 MIL Missed DET Lost ALCS
2012 STL Won WS NYY Missed
2013 LAD Lost NLDS DET Lost ALDS
2014 STL Lost NLDS BAL Missed

Out of 42 league-championship losers—21 years, two teams every year—half of those teams made the playoffs the next year. Since 2000, 16 out of 32 losing teams came back. The most persistent of those teams has been the Cubs’ rivals, the Cardinals, who lost the NLCS in 1996, 2000, 2002,  2005, 2012, and 2014 (as well as the NLDS in 2001, 2009, and 2015), while winning the World Series “just” twice.

The Cubs have work to do over the offseason. They’re not a deep team; their bench, if you count players Chris Coghlan, Chris Denorfia, Austin Jackson, Tommy La Stella, and David Ross as such, went 0-19 in hits in the series. If you include Javier Baez, filling in for an injured Addison Russell, it was 1-29. Their pitching staff isn’t deep, though the reliable part of it—Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta—proved as capable of losing as the rest. They certainly don’t have the depth of the Cardinals, who won 100 games and were competitive against the Cubs in the playoffs despite multiple injured players.

But the base is there, most of it young, affordable, and seemingly resilient. And if history holds, they have a good chance of letting the fans wait ’til next year with some confidence.

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