Maybe it’s the 45-20 record.
Maybe it’s the +238 run differential through 65 regular season games.
Maybe it’s the even better-than-real-life 48-16 pythagorean win-loss record, which projects a record based on run differential.
Maybe it’s the fact that they have a stacked pitching staff and lead the league with 35 games having allowed 2 or fewer runs.
Maybe it’s a little bit of all of the above that makes me feel as though, after 108 years in the gutter, this may be the year that the Chicago Cubs win it all.
On paper, it looks like they should never lose. Their lineup is stacked, almost from top to bottom. And when players like Kyle Schwarber go down for the year, there are others that can step into his place–including multiple young farm guys who are itching at a shot to break into the big leagues.
Such a wealth of talent at absolutely all levels of play indicates that the Cubs eventual World Series win in 2016 (knocking on wood) may not be a one-and-done scenario–it could be the start of a dynasty. When Jimmy Rollins famously called the Phillies “the team to beat” before the 2007 season, that dynasty lasted until 2011, the last time Philadelphia clinched the division crown. I’m going to come out and say that the Cubs will be a powerhouse in the National League for far longer than that.
But the focus of this piece isn’t on the future, it’s on the now. It’s on the team that has compiled the best record in baseball so far this season and has absolutely dismantled its opposition to the tune of a run differential that approaches TWICE AS HIGH as any other team.
The Starting Pitching
Outside of the Kershaw-led Dodgers, Jake Arrieta and the Cubs starting pitching staff might be spearheaded by the best pitcher in the game right now. Three of the five members of Chicago’s rotation currently have a WHIP that falls below 1.0. All five have one less than 1.1. As a team, their WHIP is 1.05, good for the lowest in the league, which averages 1.31. When you’re facing the Chicago Cubs starters, you’re going to have a very tough time reaching base. They also lead the league in lowest on-base percentage, batting average and slugging percentage against, as if you were unsure of that already.
Jake Arrieta has been borderline unreal lately. Since making an adjustment to his mechanics after coming over from Baltimore, the Cubs ace has been unhittable (on two occasions he was literally unhittable).
Jon Lester, the number two, has been a picture of consistency with a sub-2 era, almost exactly one strikeout per 9 innings and a WHIP better than Jake’s.
From there, the rotation doesn’t lose much steam, as John Lacky, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks have all vastly outperformed preseason projections. To put it in perspective, the worst ERA in the Cubs rotation (Hendricks’ 3.05) is better than the best starter’s ERA on the Phillies, Reds, Cards, Brewers and D-Backs. And that’s only counting NL teams.
The Cubs lineup is actually underperforming right now, believe it or not. Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler (who is hurt), Jason Heyward and Addison Russell are all hitting considerably worse than their peripherals suggest they should be. Low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) has suggests that Heyward, Soler and Rizzo may simple be getting unlucky, hitting the ball hard, but right at people.
Younger players who will likely be stepping into larger roles at a later time like Baez and Almora have shown huge upside so far. Baez has considerably cut down on his swing and miss and strikeout percentage, the main factor that hurt his ability to produce in a short stint last season.
It’s hard to look at the Cubs right now and not see a dynasty. With incredible numbers across the board while playing without their starting catcher in Kyle Schwarber and OF in Jorge Soler points to a team that will find success not only this season, but in many, many seasons to come if they can remain healthy.