At the time of writing, the Cubs’ 24-6 record is one of the best in the MLB. Remarkably, the Cubs are even better than their record indicates. So far, the team’s +89 run differential is the third best through 25 games in MLB history, behind only the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1905 New York Giants.
To put this in perspective, the Cubs’ run differential is already 14 runs better than their total at the end of last year’s 97-win campaign and is more than twice that of the second place St. Louis Cardinals (+40). In terms of run differential, the defending World Series Champion and 16th place Kansas City Royals are closer to the 2nd place Cardinals than the Cardinals are to the Cubs.
Even though run differential is by no means a perfect metric, it is significant. The 1902 Pirates and the 1905 Giants both won over 100 games and finished first in the MLB. While it might feel a little premature to say the Cubs will finish with the best record in baseball, many projections predicted it before the season even started.
In spring training, FiveThirtyEight.com predicted that the Cubs would win 96 games and finish with a +138 run differential. With 137 games left to play, the Cubs are on track for 123 wins and a +577 run differential (assuming their per game run differential stays at 3.56). No team has ever won more than 116 games (the 1906 Cubs and 2001 Mariners each won 116) or had a per-game run differential over 2.7 (1939 Yankees). FiveThirtyEight.com’s updated projections now have the Cubs winning 105 games and posting a run differential of +246. The last team to win 105 games was the 2004 Cardinals, which, after winning the National League pennant, ultimately lost to the Red Sox in the World Series.
While projections can often be wrong (i.e. the 2015 Royals), this Cubs team seems to be special. Unlike some other teams who might be over-performing, such as the Phillies, the Cubs’ early success does not seem like a fluke. The Cubs are set up with a formidable offense and a dominant rotation, as evidenced by the fact that they are scoring the most runs in baseball while also giving up the fewest. As a team, they don’t really have any weaknesses. Stacked with an ideal combination of young talent and veteran leadership, the Cubs are destined for greatness.
*all statistics current as of 5/3/16
photo source: Wikimedia