An abbreviated version of this article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on September 22, 2016.
With the Cubs nearing completion on a historically dominant regular season, Chicago’s North Side is cautiously bracing itself for the possibility of a championship parade this autumn. However, a little perspective becomes important. Not “108 year drought” perspective, but rather how poorly the presumptive MLB favorites have fared in recent years.
Franchises that have dominated their leagues have had trouble matching expectations once the postseason began. Only one of the previous eight teams to finish the regular season with a margin of at least seven games over their respective league’s #2 seed has won the World Series. The Cubs currently have eight more wins than any other National League club.
MLB Teams That Won Their League By 7+ Games
|N.Y. Yankees||1998||22||Won World Series|
|Cleveland||1995||14||Lost World Series|
|St. Louis||2005||10||Lost LCS|
|St. Louis||2004||9||Lost World Series|
|N.Y. Mets||2006||9||Lost LCS|
|Cleveland||1996||7||Lost 1st Round|
* Through games of September 22
The Cubs are on pace to become the 23rd team to win at least 100 games during the Wild Card era (1995-); only two of the previous 22 (9.1%) won a championship (six wild cards won titles over that span). Even more alarming, exactly half of the 22 teams failed to win a single playoff series.
When expanding the field to teams that won their divisions by 10 or more games (Chicago currently has a 17-game cushion in the NL Central), the results aren’t any better. Since baseball went to six divisions in ‘95, 34 clubs have won a division title by 10+ games and just three (8.8%) went on to win the Fall Classic.
Despite all of this, according to vegasinsider.com, the Cubs are getting 21/10 odds (32.3%) to win the World Series and are nearly even money, at 21/20 odds (48.8%), to win the pennant.
But if there’s one team that can buck the recent trend, it may be this year’s Cubs. They have been so strong this season, if you removed their ridiculous 25-6 start, their remaining .595 winning percentage (72-49 record) would still be the best in baseball. And they have demonstrated an ability to defeat opponents with both their bats and their arms. Chicago leads the Senior Circuit in OPS+ and ERA+ (on-base + slugging and ERA, both adjusted for ballpark factors); no NL team has managed to pull that off since the 1986 New York Mets, who won it all following a 108-win season.
(photo by MBDChicago)