You know Nate Silver, the prognosticator who gained national attention for correctly predicting the winner in all 50 states of the 2012 election and was ahead of the pack on the surprising 2016 election. He has shifted some of his attention in recent years to sports, which brings us to the Cubs.
The folks at FiveThirtyEight — basically editor-in-chief Silver and FanGraphs writer Craig Edwards — posted a National League Central forecast Thursday that veered into dynasty talk.
It’s an interesting read backed up by some interesting — and a little mind-numbing — numbers. In short, they give the Cubs an 88 percent chance to win the Central (up from 56 percent last year). Nothing shocking in their NL Central forecast. The Cubs will win the division and win it by a massive margin.
Things get interesting in this roundtable-style discussion when they start breaking down the Central teams and discuss the red flags in the Cubs’ rotation and the benefit of having a healthy Kyle Schwarber in the everyday lineup.
“The only question is the pitching rotation,” Edwards says. “In 2015 and 2016, they had all their top guys healthy and pitching well. It would take a major disaster in the rotation, but if they don’t meet expectations, that is where it is likely to come from.”
Later in the discussion, Edwards says: “John Lackey is probably the most worrisome, because he is getting to an age where he could all of a sudden be finished.”
“I think the question is what sort of reinforcements they could bring in if Lackey turned into a pumpkin, for instance,” Silver says.
Adds Edwards: “Jon Lester has also defied the aging curve over the past two seasons, and his velocity is down this spring, so that is a concern as well. Plus, it will be interesting to see how Willson Contreras plays out defensively at catcher, as he’ll be replacing David Ross as Lester’s personal catcher.”
Silver brings up a key point later in the conversation: “But let’s keep in mind that the Cubs are not only smart, but rich — so they’re a good candidate to bring a pitcher in at the trade deadline if they need one.”
Not that there were too many Cubs fans worried about this season, but this should provide some comfort.
But when the discussion turns to the Cubs being a dynasty …
“We’re talking about a very high bar that the Cubs will have to clear to keep pace with their performance from last year,” Silver says. “It’s incredibly hard to win 100+ games two years in a row these days. The last team to do it was St. Louis in 2004 and 2005.
“… The thing to remember is that even if you had a team with 103-win talent — and the Cubs probably aren’t *quite* there — they’d still only have something like a 15 percent to 20 percent chance to win the World Series, given how random the playoffs can be. So if we’re thinking in terms of dynasties, there’s a question of how we’d measure one. It’s likely to be a *long* time before we see another team run off three World Series in a row, or four in five years, even if they’re the best team in baseball the whole time.”
Check out the FiveThirtyEight post. It’s a fascinating look at the Cubs and the NL Central.
CROSSTOWN CACTUS CLASSIC
The Cubs and White Sox face off today in Glendale, Ariz., and the Cubs are fielding what looks like an Opening Day lineup (outside of Tommy LaStella at DH) for the crosstown rivals. Schwarber will be leading off for the Cubs and playing right field, getting him used to that outfield spot for when the Cubs visit Pittsburgh and spacious PNC Park.
Our Daryl Van Schouwen gave us a morning post previewing the game today. The game will be shown locally at 2:05 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
For Sox fans — heck, just baseball fans — the telecast will provide a glimpse of flame-throwing Sox prospect Michael Kopech.
THAT’S SWEET, LOU
Our old pal Chuck Wasserstrom — the former Cubs front-office exec who is now blogging about baseball — caught up with Lou Piniella recently.
Piniella was the first manager under the Ricketts ownership group — in fact, who can forget word leaking out on the Cubs being sold on Opening Day of Piniella’s first season?
Piniella really thought he would be the manager to end the Cubs’ drought. And he had been given some assurances the Cubs would spend money to make that happen. They did before his first season, going on that famous spending spree that helped produce back-to-back postseason trips.
Then the Ricketts family steadily cut off the flow of money.
“My first year, we won our division – but with only 85 wins,” Piniella tells Wasserstrom. “The second year, we won the most games in the majors with 97. After a couple years, we had to start undoing some of the things that we had done from a payroll standpoint. We had to drop our payroll the next few years.
“When the Ricketts family bought the team, they had priorities. They wanted to fix the farm system, which I thought was a very wise move. They needed to get the new complex in Mesa, Arizona, done – which they did. And they wanted to fix up the ballpark – and they have spent a lot of money on the park. Those were their priorities when they took over. And they’ve done a wonderful job.
“I enjoyed my four years in Chicago, I really did. It’s a wonderful city. And the Cubs are a storied franchise. I’m happy that I was a part of it for four years.”
Piniella deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame as a manager. Check out Chuck’s post.
Lou is truly one of baseball’s all-time great guys. Here’s one of the many reasons I get a kick out of Lou.
LESTER HOLDS THE KEY
Opening Day starter Jon Lester could be the key to the Cubs’ rotation if Jake Arrieta — as expected — moves on after this season, our Gordon Wittenmyer points out in this story.
Gordon writes: “Lester suggested it will help that the Cubs “figured out how to win” the last two years. And the Cubs are operating under a front-office philosophy of developing their own hitters while building rotations out of pitchers developed elsewhere.
“Of course, that process is only as stable or as volatile as the market.”
Check out Gordon’s post for an interesting look at the future of the Cubs’ rotation.
A CURIOUS CUT
Before taking on the Sox today, the Cubs made another round of cuts.
Among the moves was the cut of outfielder Eloy Jimenez, prompting Wittenmyer to ask: “Did the Cubs just send the next Edgar Martinez to the minors?”
Find out what Gordon’s talking about here.
ON THE SOUTH SIDE
Big Jake Petricka continues his comeback from hip surgery and reports great progress.
The 6-5 right-hander figures to be a key piece to the Sox’ late-inning relief mix. Since earning 14 saves with a 2.96 ERA in 73 innings during the 2014 season, the 28-year-old has been sidetracked by injuries.
“Just happy to be getting everything back in time,” Petricka told Van Schouwen. “We’ve come a long way since the start of camp already.”
AROUND THE HORN ON TWITTER (ST. PATRICK’S DAY EDITION)