Could 2016 finally be the Chicago Cubs’ year? The World Series is still five months away, but five weeks into the season the Cubs are clearly baseball’s best team.
After beating Washington 4-3 in 13 innings on Sunday, the Cubs extended their winning streak to seven and entered Monday night’s home game against San Diego with an MLB-best 24-6 record. That’s the best in franchise history since the 1907 team also got out to a 24-6 start. That year, the Cubs won the World Series, something they did again the following year. Since 1908, however, the Cubs have not won the Fall Classic.
But after making it to the NLCS last year and given how dominant this team has looked at times in the early going, could the longest championship drought in North American sports come to an end this October? Here are 10 statistics that should give all Cubs fans hope, even if it is only the second week of May.
The Cubs’ major league-leading run differential, a category that they lead by a whopping 58 runs. Chicago has scored the most (184) while giving up the fewest (82) runs entering Monday’s games. The New York Mets (+44) are second, while two teams (Atlanta and New York Yankees) have scored fewer runs than the Cubs have outscored their opponents. In fact, on Saturday the Cubs became the second-fastest team in major league history (since at least 1900) to reach plus-100 in run differential, according to Sportsnet Stats. The only team to do it faster was the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates, who needed just 26 games.
The Cubs’ run differential on the road. They are 13-3 away from Wrigley Field, having scored 110 runs (6.9 per game) and giving up 40. Outside of losing 13-5 to Cincinnati on April 23, the Cubs other two road losses this season have come by two runs (at St. Louis, April 20) and one run (at Arizona, April 8).
The Cubs have already won 13 games by five or more runs. That’s more blowout victories than four teams (Atlanta, Minnesota, New York Yankees, Houston) have entering Monday and the same number of total wins that four other teams have. Chicago has 17 wins by four or more runs. Only eight teams have more total wins to this point.
It’s early, but Chicago is dominating its NL Central counterparts. Not only have the Cubs lost just twice in 15 games in divisional play, they have outscored the four teams 101-36. Cincinnati (6-1 record against) is the only team Chicago has faced twice, but the Cubs are 5-1 in the early going against Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the two teams they beat in last year’s playoffs before getting swept by the New York Mets in the NLCS.
Even though the Cubs are eighth in team batting average at .263, they lead baseball with a .368 on-base percentage. This is fueled by an MLB-best 156 walks, which is 26 more than the next team (San Francisco). Chicago hitters have drawn nearly nice twice as many walks as the pitching staff has allowed (88).
Dexter Fowler, who signed a one-year deal to return to the Cubs at the start of spring training, is leading baseball with a .462 on-base percentage. He also is tied for seventh in batting average (.340), tied for sixth in runs (24), already has 17 RBIs (fifth on the team), six stolen bases and has nearly as many walks (21) as strikeouts (26).
As good as the Cubs have been scoring runs, the scary thought is there’s room for improvement. As a team, the Cubs are batting just .248 with runners in scoring position, which places them 20th in the majors entering Monday. The hitters are still producing (MLB-best 146 runs) in these situations, and that’s despite the fact that guys like Jason Heyward (.229 average) and Ben Zobrist (.233) have struggled in the early going. Just imagine what this offense can do when everyone is clicking, especially when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field.
Manager Joe Maddon has pointed out on several occasions that pitching is just as important to the Cubs’ run differential as the offense has been. The Cubs’ major-league leading team ERA of 2.48 is just one of several categories the pitching staff currently is No. 1 in. It also leads the way in WHIP (1.03), batting average against (.201), hits allowed (194) and opponents’ OPS (.586).
The Cubs are currently tied for fourth in the majors in quality starts with 21, but Maddon has gotten quality innings from his starter every time out. In 30 games the shortest outing of any Chicago starting pitcher has been five innings. For the season, the Cubs’ rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks is No. 1 in MLB with a 2.26 collective ERA and .209 batting average against while compiling a 19-4 record.
Because of the great work from the starters, the Cubs’ bullpen has only pitched 81 1/3 innings. That’s tied with Toronto for the fewest in baseball entering Monday’s games. Chicago relievers have done a pretty good job thus far, posting a collective ERA of 2.99 (seventh among bullpens) and holding opponents to a .184 batting average (second). The bullpen’s WHIP is just 1.06 and the relief corps is averaging an impressive 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.