Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Informed Hoplessness: Just How 'Out of It' Are the Cubs?

Reason for joy or just time to root for the Bears?
Now that Ted Lilly has finished his dissection of yet another team (just relax, Astros, and let the ether do its work) the Cubs are 10 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, pending their discovery of yet another way to send the Brewers to their demoralizing defeat. The Cubs will be either 10.5 or 9.5 games out of first place in the National League Central, a climb few dreamers believe they can make.

Yes, even the incurable optimists are relegated to Wild Card wishes, and the 5.5 games by which the Cubbies currently trail the Rockies certainly seem more feasibly scaled than Mt. Pujols. But is the Wild Card picture really any less bleak than the layout of the NL Central?

Not much.

As far as I know, there is no official way to quantify the additional hurdle(s) facing a team that is 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc., in a playoff race. While the Cubs are 5.5 games back of the Rockies, they're also .5 behind the Marlins, 2.5 behind the Braves, and 4.5 behind the Giants—the Cubs are a distant 5th place in the Wild Card standings. That definitely doesn't seem a lot cheerier than being a very distant 2nd. So how do you know which position is worse?

Here's the system I use: I take the total number of games the Cubs trail the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th teams, divide by 2 and add that total to the number of games behind the leader. Say wha? Here's a little explanation.

Every team's game result is worth one half game in the standings. In today's game, the Cubs win was only half the story. The Astros also lost, completing the other half. The Cubs gained a half game; the Astros lost a half game, thus moving the Cubs and Astros one full game farther apart. For the Cubs to make up a full game on the Rockies, they need the Rockies to lose (to the Mets). In the economy of the standings, a Cub win and a Rockie loss are each worth one half game.

Prior to tonight's games, the Cubs need 5 wins and 6 Rockie losses (11 total results or half-games) to catch Colorado. But to gain the Wild Card lead, they also need 1 Marlin loss, 3 Atlanta losses, and 5 Giant losses (9 half-games). That's why I divide the other margins in half: a Cub win gains a half-game on everyone, but every other team's result is independent of the Cubs' performance. Clear as tobacco spit? Awesome. So the Cubs are, at this moment, 5.5 games behind the Rockies and a total of 7.5 games (adjusted to 3.75) behind everyone else.

The long and short of it: The Cubs are 9.25 games out of the Wild Card lead.

Since the Marlins and Braves play each other, one team will gain on them and one will lose, which will leave that number unchanged. If the Rockies and Giants both lose, it will drop to 8.5. If they both win, it's back up to 10. Things can shift pretty fast in the Wild Card race, which can be both awesome and devastating.

Until I see the Cubs in 2nd place within 2 or 3 games, my money's on devastating.
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