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The Cubs Have Been Good All Along

FLUSHING, NY - AUGUST 08: Chicago Cubs First Baseman Jeimer Cajndelario (9) and Chicago Cubs Center Fielder Cody Bellinger (24) hi five to celebrate the victory after the Major League Baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets on August 8, 2023, at Citi Field in Flushing, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)
Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire

The truest thing about baseball, other than the fact that Comrade Roth's relationship to it borders on the unhealthy, is that the mean eventually gets everyone. If you are a bad team playing well, you will eventually revert to your actual status, and the same thing with bad ones. There are exceptions to this, because in 2,686 team-seasons some strays are likely to escape, like the '69 Mets, but mostly you end up being what Jeff (Tree Boy) Passan says you are. That's what Our Lord And Liege Run Differential is there to explain.

Thus, while we have been happily ignoring the gray flannel of the Milwaukee Brewers and their soul-draining lineup and being mesmerizing by the Cincinnati Reds and their Elly De La Cruz–powered effervescence, the underachieving and largely dismissable Chicago Cubs are stealing what passes for the division's soul and could if they continue rain down upon us a level of obnoxio-yammering to rival 2016.

Part of this, we are sad to report, is that baseball has figured out De La Cruz's ass, big-time. He is one of the worst offensive players in baseball since the all-star break, leading the league in strikeouts and batting a hideous .170. And the Reds, who were 23-8 from the day he was promoted until the break are 10-15 since then. The big moment came when the Cubs beat the Reds on successive days, 20-9 and 16-6, which mostly revealed Cincinnati's crud-based pitching but also showed us something we hadn't been paying attention to, which is that Cubs are better than we thought, dreamed, or wanted them to be. They have two players who are not quite as dynamic as De La Cruz but have been more reliable, in Cody Bellinger and Christopher Morel, and one Cy Young candidate in starter Justin Steele, and unlike the Reds are spiking now rather than a month ago.

Bellinger, like De La Cruz, was a dominant player (the 2019 National League MVP as a Dodger) only to crash and burn hard, and then be remainder-binned to the North Side this past offseason. Morel has been a quietly solid player on a team that has a deep need for more of those than they already have (remember Patrick Wisdom?). The rest of the Cubs are free of big names but generate runs at a division winner's clip, and might be best positioned to win the trophy of best NL team not located in Atlanta or Los Angeles, for all the good that will do them.

And ultimately that is the takeaway here. None of these three teams are the Braves or Dodgers, making third place the breakoff point between the very good and the merely representative. Today, the Cubs are the liveliest members of the six-team clot that includes Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Miami, but the rule of regression to the mean suggests that the Phillies and Giants are more likely to survive the late September purge than, say, the Reds. The world caught up with Elly De La Cruz, and without him the Reds are interesting but not special, while the Cubs’ positive run differential that looked like a punchline when they were seven games below .500 is now revealing itself to be truth. As Tree Boy will attest it usually does.

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