On Wednesday night, the Chicago Cubs clinched the NL Central for the second year straight. However, the 2017 version of the Cubs has taken a very different path to the playoffs. The 2016 Cubs were downright dominant from Opening Day to the final out of the World Series posting a ridiculous +252 run differential, which was a full 68 runs better than the next closest team (Red Sox). 2017? The Cubs have only posted a +118 run differential (8th in the league as of 9/27/17). The Cubs, whether they admit it or not, probably suffered a major World Series hangover to start the year contributing to their poor start. Sporting a sub-.500 winning percentage at the All-Star Break, people were starting to lose faith in the
2017 Cubs. But thanks to playing in a weak division, they found a turnaround in the second half to push them into the playoffs.
The major difference between the first and second half of the season for the Cubs has been the hitting. The hitting for this team in the first half was pretty bad. Only having a 93 wRC+, the offense did little to help the struggling starting pitching staff who threw out a pretty bad 4.66 ERA in the first half (the bullpen not included in that ERA as the bullpen has been strong all year thanks to strong years from Wade Davis and Carl Edwards Jr.). In the first half, the Cubs may have experienced some hard luck as well, only sporting a .280 BABIP (13th in NL), but that luck may have been deserved as the Cubs sported just a mere 29.7% Hard Contact Rate (also 13th in NL). So the Cubs were not exactly getting robbed 24/7. After the All-Star Break however, their "luck" has turned significantly. Posting a .333 BABIP (2nd in NL) and a 32.9% Hard Contact Rate, they are hitting the ball a lot harder and they are falling. They also decided to join the home run revolution in the second half too, posting a 16.9% HR/FB rate (tied for 1st in NL), and hitting 101 big flies (2nd in NL), the Cubs lead the NL in second half wRC+ at 113.
I expect this lineup to continue this surge throughout the playoffs, as this lineup is sneaky good. Led by Kris Bryant, who is being overshadowed this year by the many other NL MVP candidates, this lineup can produce against any given pitcher. Posting the 3rd best wOBA against lefties in the NL at a clip of .334 AND the best OBP against lefties in the NL at .351, this team is built to produce against the lefty-loaded National League (Kershaw, Robbie Ray, Gio Gonzalez, Alex Wood, Rich Hill). What about righties? 3rd best in the NL in wOBA and wRC+. This lineup is going to produce, my concern has been the streaky SP
This rotation has been arguably the worst out of the NL playoff teams this season (Rockies are running a tight race). With a down year from Jon Lester (and pretty much everyone else on their staff), the rotation that was shut down nasty last year faltered out of the gate, but relax Cubs fans, the 2nd half rotation has been much improved. Lowering their ERA from the 1st half (4.66) to the 2nd half (3.42, best in NL), the Cubs have shown flashes of their 2016 dominance thanks in part to the mid-season acquisition of Jose Quintana who has been terrific since switching sides of Chicago. Finally utilizing his shut down talent, Quintana has been among the elite in the NL posting a 10.51 K/9. Also, with a good bullpen, this staff has been good since the All-Star Break, but not great. If this team is going to get back to the World Series, the pitching staff is going to have to keep up the second half dominance, and maybe even step it up a notch.
The Cubs are certainly trending in the right direction, but can this second half success lead to another World Series title? Cubs fans hope so. Do I personally believe this team will repeat as champions? I do not believe so as I do not fully trust the pitching staff, but nothing will surprise me once October arrives, that is what makes the MLB playoffs the most entertaining postseason in sports.
Author: John Sanchez